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paulb

how do you collect?

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There has been a great deal of discussion around what one should collect, how one should collect and what is right and wrong. Having been caught up in that debate, in some cases rather uncomfortably, I have taken some time to think about what I do and how I do it, to try and create a framework to help me understand the reasoning behind choices made. Collecting in any field is multi-facetted and everyone is motivated by different things. I think this why misunderstandings and sometimes arguments occur. Debates as to whether something should be polished or otherwise restored often occur because of these differences. For some it is purely a financial decision, for others more emotional and driven by more abstract concepts. While there should be no debate as to how something should be restored, i.e. by someone qualified to do it, there will always be varying views on whether something should be restored or simply conserved.

For the sake of transparency I should confirm that my own collection has evolved over almost 40 years. It started as many do by buying anything that appeared to be Japanese and sharp. I accumulated a number of not very good swords. As I learned more and looked at more good swords my searches refined in to some specific areas. About 15 years ago I took the decision to reduce the number and improve the quality of what I held. I did this fairly ruthlessly over the next three or four years until I had what I believed to be the best examples I could afford of the schools I was interested in. Since reaching that point I have added one further blade that I regard as an important addition, but also two or three others simply because I found them interesting or enjoyed what I was seeing in them.

Within my current collection which is predominantly work from the Koto period I have two signed koto works and one signed Shinto piece. The remainder are all o-suriage with the exception of an ubu, mumei shin-shinto work.

While I am reluctant to say I have stopped collecting I do pretty much believe I have reached the end point in what I can achieve. While it would be foolish to say I will never buy another sword I certainly have no plans or immediate ambition to do so.

Having reached this point I have looked at what I believe to be important in this pursuit and how it should be approached. I must also make it clear that this is a personal view; it is not a recommendation, instruction or any form of guidance. It is an explanation of how I have collected.

Basic rules to myself:

1.       Always study the very best examples of blades that you can find. Take every opportunity you can to look at good quality workmanship. This may be at a museum (although access can prove problematic) viewing days at auctions (less frequent and poorer quality than they used to be) and at sword events and shows such as the DTI, S.F. show and other specialist fairs. Or if lucky looking at swords in other enthusiasts’ collections.

2.       Also look on line. The quality of blades published on various websites is exceptional and the images first class. While this is not a substitute for looking at good pieces in hand it is a useful addition and greatly broadens the opportunity to see works that might otherwise not be available. However also be aware that images can be and sometimes are doctored or modified by less scrupulous dealers. 

By doing the above one can identify which aspects of a sword have the greatest appeal. In good quality blades features such as utsuri, activity within the jigane and hamon etc. are generally more clearly visible and identifiable. Having seen them clearly in these pieces it is easier to identify them in lesser work, or pieces in less than perfect polish.

3.       Once you have identified what you like and want to add an example to your collection find the best example you can afford. As has often been said patience is required. By waiting and saving a little longer a better example may become available. However one also needs to be realistic in setting targets and what can be achieved.

4.       One of the challenges a collector will ultimately face is that as they learn more they become more discerning and as one colleague once put it “their knowledge surpasses their budget”. As understanding increases one often hears of collectors refining their collection and moving toward the “fewer good quality pieces are a better collection than many mediocre” concept.

5.       But then there comes the odd ball. Occasionally, albeit increasingly rarely, a piece may appear that does not fit in to the criteria identified above but it just appeals. It has features that can be enjoyed and appreciated. It doesn’t have to be a great work or by a recognised master it is simply a good thing. However that assessment is not based on “I just buy what I like” it is a view formed after following the steps above and after time studying good workmanship.

The nearest comparison I can make is in painting or sculpture. I know the masters I really love and study as much as I can. That study does not stop me appreciating work by lesser painters or from buying work that appeals. Adding this to a collection does not necessarily improve it, add to ones education or understanding, but it can enhance enjoyment. Put simply it can just be a beautiful thing and can be appreciated for that alone.

 

So do I always stick to the above? No, I am human and sometimes for all sorts of reasons I take a flyer, thinking I see something in a particular piece that could make it worthwhile. More often than not I am wrong but I learn though the process. Fortunately that hasn’t happened too often. However if I do get it wrong one thing I have not, nor will I do, is try and pass on my mistake to someone else. If you gamble and it fails live with the consequences.

 

I think we are all motivated by different aspects of collecting. My approach will be different to many and similar to others. There is not a wrong or right way. The important thing is that whichever route one chooses to follow is based on an understanding of the subject and of one’s motives for collecting. Once those are understood it is much easier to enjoy the process.

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In order to reinforce your post, may we know what your collection consists of and why you chose said swords? (At your discretion, if i have overstepped then i understand. )

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Forgive me Ray but I am not sure how specifying my collection in detail reinforces the points being made. I hope that the approach would hold true whether one is focusing at the top, middle or lower end of the market. Also I confess to be uncomfortable disclosing any collection mine or any other in detail on an open forum. Perhaps I am old fashioned but it doesn't quite  seem to be the right thing to do.

As an overview I have focused predominantly on Yamashiro work ranging in dates from early to late Kamakura period. I have also included work that I believe to be Yamashiro influenced such as Chu-Aoe and Enju. In addition I have an interest in Yamato so have examples of Hosho and Shikkake blades. For completeness and a similar vain to my good friend Jean, I have included Bizen and Mino examples to complete the Gokaden.  My one shinto blade would be very familiar to you it is an Osaka Ishido wakizashi. The ubu shin-shinto work has been discussed here before.

I chose the swords I did because in the main they exhibit the features I most value. strong and elegant sugata, good quality tightly forged ji-hada conservative suguha or gentle midare hamon ( even my Bizen blade is suguha) in ko-nie deki and a great deal of activity within the jigane. I am always drawn to tight ko-itame hada, before settling on Yamashiro I was a great Hizen fan (still am to some extent)

not sure if this answers your question sufficiently but hope it helps.

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I just buy what I like. I'm not inclined to become a great expert on this subject. Life is too short to get too deeply into the reasons why we like what we like. 

I mean I like my wife, but I don't doubt many would prefer brunette or redheads but that doesn't mean that they couldn't appreciate blondes as well. 

I buy what inspires me Paul and that's where I am. 

I do not buy to please or gain praise from others especially. 

It's nice if like minded people enjoy what I do but it's not a prerequisite. 

Enjoy what you can whilst you can we are only here a while. 

Once I get a few more koshirae completed I'll be stopping my purchases and concentrating on study  of what I have. 

I like my fittings most but I want a few blades. Tachi or katana, wakizashi and a koto tanto. Just the three and the requirements are flawless and highly decorative hamon. I have more swords and yari but I'll move these on when the time is right. 

 

 

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I began like Paul, collecting anything that took my fancy.  Later, I decided I would concentrate on Gendaito.   I believe I learnt much from  Gendaito, as I believe most are just a continuance of Shin Shinto.  However, now my tastes have changed again.  I still like Gendaito,  but have now branched out to all era's

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