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Not sure what to do with this


spro
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My father in law just recently gifted me this wakizashi. It was given to him by his grandfather who brought it to the states after WWII.

 

At first I thought it was produced for the war efforts, but some research leads me to believe it may be older than that--possibly from the 1600s. A Japanese-speaking friend thought it might say "Ohara ju Sanemori" in the inscription, but I was hoping someone here might be able to confirm that and provide context on what that means. Can you help me identify it?

 

I'm also not sure what to do with it. I'd love to completely restore it for display, but I'm not sure what that would do to the monetary and historical value of it. Should I keep this as it is or would I be ok to have it professionally restored?

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This is definitely not a blade produced for the war effort. It appears much older, the patination on the nakago easily suggests its much older than that. Mid-Edo at least maybe? It would be helpful to see more of the blade, especially around the boshi (tip) but the condition of the metal looks rather rough and pitted as well as substantial damage to the tip. Do nothing to remove any of the patina/rust for now. Rarely wakizashis that are unsigned are worth restoration, but this one is signed and might merit it. I cannot speak as to the veracity of the mei (signature). I would get more photos and especially a good photo of the overall bare blade without habaki to help the more knowledgeable members here!

P.S. Can we also get some measurements?

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Thanks for the response!

 

I tried getting the habaki off, but the nakago has a couple spots where the rust is raised and the seppa won't slide off.

 

Here are some of the approximate measurements:

  • The overall length is 22.5 inches
  • The kissaki is around 1 inch
  • The nakago is 4 inches measured to the base of the hakabi (5 if including the length the hakabi covers)

Here are some more images. I was able to slide the hakabi down a bit.

What other parts of the blade should I try to get better photos off?

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That is some pretty heavy kissaki damage, if it breaks through the hamon at any point, then its a dead blade unfortunately (but can still be enjoyed as is).  BUT, it appears not fatal; however, it would require a togishi to reshape the boshi quite a bit. As for the habaki, I get that. The best I could suggest would be to brace it with some soft wood and gently tap it down. You could oil the length of the blade with choji or some other non-abrasive oil for now (except the nakago) to prevent further deterioration. My feeling is that, unless the mei proves shoshin and its a big name, the blade is unlikely to merit a visit to a togishi. However, that judgement would be reserved for those more experienced/the togishi themselves. A good togishi runs more than $100usd/inch.

 

I would wait and see what other members here have to say before taking further action.

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I was thinking I might tap it down like you suggested, but the gold plating is flaking off. Is that something I can worry about restoring/preserving or is it pretty well shot at this point (ie. don't worry if it falls off when tapping)?

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I wouldn't worry about damaging the habaki, Steve, as it's the least of your worries. It looks like the wakizashi was put away while it was still wet, because there's a lot more rust than I'd expect, otherwise. I would learn what you can from the blade, & not worry about trying to restore it.

 

Welcome to NMB.

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Thanks Ken. How important is it that I get the habaki completely off? I've been tapping away at it with plastic punches and a gunsmithing hammer for some time, and I think it's gone as far as it will go without more...drastic measures. I'm also admittedly a little afraid of slicing my hand open. The blade is still relatively sharp. Do these pictures reveal any new information?

 

What would be my next step in figuring out the worth, age, and origin of this blade?

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Yes, it says 大原住真守 (Ōhara-jū Sanemori), which, if you have put into a search engine you will know was a very famous swordsmith. 

You ought to be very, very suspicious of the name on this sword. I think it is a garden variety wakizashi, that someone has put a fake signature on. 

 

It could be from the anywhere between the 1500s to the 1900s. Don't bother trying to get the habaki off any more than it already is. I don't think there is anything further to gain by removing the habaki. The sword itself would cost thousands to restore, and after the restoration you would still have to reckon with the fake signature. This means either leaving it on (preserving it for whatever historical value it might have), or getting it removed, which would make it eligible to get properly appraised by the NBTHK in Japan, but that would be another investment in time and money that would be very difficult to justify from a financial point of view. 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks Steve! My friend mentioned that Sanemori was very famous and it does sound a little too good to be true that I'm holding one of his wakizashi.

 

Is there a way to verify real vs fake signatures on blades such as these? I'm new to this so I'm unsure of the process for determining authenticity. I understand one must submit for a shinsa, but you mentioned I wouldn't be able to do so with the signature that's on it?

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Yes, in normal times you could bring the sword to a sword show, or some other venue where the US branch of NTHK offers authentication services. Or, you could send it to Japan for authentication by the NBTHK, which is sort of the gold standard for sword authentication. Sending to Japan is quite labor intensive, as it involves getting the sword registered once imported, and then de-registering it again once it has been appraised and is ready for export. Covid is making all of this much more complicated. I haven't looked lately at the NBTHK site, but I thought someone on this forum mentioned they were looking at ways to authenticate swords online. 

http://www.japaneseswordindex.com/origami.htm

 

However, the sword has to be in a condition that will allow them to authenticate it - meaning the sword has to be in reasonably good polish. Also, they won't authenticate swords that have fatal flaws (unless it is some exceptionally, historically important sword). You could pay thousands for a sword polish only to discover a crack in the blade, which would likely get a sword like this kicked from the authentication process. 

 

If you are in New Jersey, maybe there is someone on this forum who lives nearby who can take a look. Otherwise, look out for sword shows once the virus calms down a bit. Bear in mind, most everyone who looks at the sword is probably going to say "too rusty to see anything". I think its best to keep as an artifact. You could get new furnishings (scabbard, handle, etc) made for it to at least make it look more presentable, but that too would be a labor of love costing over a thousand bucks. 

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According to Markus Sesko, quoting from earlier sources, Ohara Sanemori (or the lineage of Ohara Sanemoris) worked in the Heian period (12th century) or possibly earlier.  Wakizashi like this one were not made in any significant numbers until the Nanbokucho period ( mid-14th century).

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Thank you Les. History articles like this are exactly the kind of thing I was interested in reading about! It seems I definitely have a fake signature on my wakizashi. Does that most likely mean I have a low value piece of steel? Ie, the equivalent of a walmart sword?

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You are asking two possibly complicated questions: value and equivalence. 

Its not a high value art sword, or even a high value antique, but value is subjective. Despite the funky signature, it does look like an authentic Japanese sword, possibly several hundred years old. Sub $500 on today's market, would be my guess. 

 

But I think everyone on this board would cringe at it being called a Walmart sword. Its a real Japanese sword (at least, it looks like one from the pictures), so it has real history, and at one point it had real utility and value. In the hands of a properly trained togishi (polisher), its old glory could well be restored. This is nothing you can buy at Walmart. And we get so many people on the board who proudly post their first purchase, only to find out that it is a Chinese-made replica. You are already through that minefield unscathed, so that's why it feels wrong to write this off as some mass-produced piece of junk. 

 

The other thing is: if you (or us) get into the habit of denigrating these old swords, its a very short step to abusing them, subjecting them to the old "sandpaper polish", or otherwise trashing them with the justification that they are "junk". 

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I agree with what Steve M said above wholeheartedly.  You might find an entry-level collector (like me) interested in a blade like this for ≈$100, but you can always try your luck on eBay.  Old, traditionally-made blades with issues are still collectible, and very old and sharp things are still cool to people like me, regardless of condition.  Or, keep it!  Care for it as best you can, get as much rust off of the blade as gently as you can, and you might find yourself with something you think is cool too at the end of the day :)

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19 hours ago, SteveM said:

You are asking two possibly complicated questions: value and equivalence. 

Its not a high value art sword, or even a high value antique, but value is subjective. Despite the funky signature, it does look like an authentic Japanese sword, possibly several hundred years old. Sub $500 on today's market, would be my guess. 

 

But I think everyone on this board would cringe at it being called a Walmart sword. Its a real Japanese sword (at least, it looks like one from the pictures), so it has real history, and at one point it had real utility and value. In the hands of a properly trained togishi (polisher), its old glory could well be restored. This is nothing you can buy at Walmart. And we get so many people on the board who proudly post their first purchase, only to find out that it is a Chinese-made replica. You are already through that minefield unscathed, so that's why it feels wrong to write this off as some mass-produced piece of junk. 

 

The other thing is: if you (or us) get into the habit of denigrating these old swords, its a very short step to abusing them, subjecting them to the old "sandpaper polish", or otherwise trashing them with the justification that they are "junk". 

 

Steve,

 

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I very much appreciate your candor and diplomacy in how you responded to what was most likely a crass statement on my part. I don't mean to disparage the piece of history I have in my possession. My question was more to inform whether or not I should spend the $2000ish to have the piece restored by a trained togishi or to keep as is, and I may have been insensitive in my approach. I'm currently on the 23-month waiting list to have it restored by David Hofhine at ipolishswords, so I have time before I make my final decision.

 

I'm very excited and honored to have this wakizashi and I thank you for not only bearing with me but patiently helping me as I learn the ropes.

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5 hours ago, mtexter said:

I agree with what Steve M said above wholeheartedly.  You might find an entry-level collector (like me) interested in a blade like this for ≈$100, but you can always try your luck on eBay.  Old, traditionally-made blades with issues are still collectible, and very old and sharp things are still cool to people like me, regardless of condition.  Or, keep it!  Care for it as best you can, get as much rust off of the blade as gently as you can, and you might find yourself with something you think is cool too at the end of the day :)

 

Thanks Mike! I'll definitely be keeping this as I feel it brings me closer to my heritage. I'm half Japanese on my mother's side and it's a nice way to stay culturally close to that side of my lineage. Everyone on this board has been extremely gracious and helpful. Thank you for your response.

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