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Peter Bleed

Fakery and what to do about it

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                I spent a part of this afternoon listening to CandRsenal’s summary  of the Larry Wilson’s treatment of the Colt collections at the Connecticut State Library. Another good and brief treatment of

 this – ahhh -- crime is available at Forgotten Weapons   https://www.forgottenweapons.com/

I assume that many of the serious members on NMB are at this point wondering what makes this material relevant to this community. It is NOT about Japanese swords, tutt-tutt. In fact, fakery and misrepresentation seem always to have been an integral part of Japanese sword consideration. Certainly, a key part of sword and koshirae assessment is identifying nasemono, gimei, and faked stuff.

The question I bring to this community is, when does fakery become BAD and what should we do about it?

To put that question in a form that makes it concrete, please let me re-present three tsubas that I showed this community a year or more ago. I MADE these mere discs out of an Edo-period saw blade. I learned a lot doing that and I shared that experience with this community a couple of times. ONCE after doing that, I was asked by one of the NMB readers if they were – ahhh – available for sale. I had not been as clear as I should have been. And this question pleased me – hell, I was honored - but it did not tempt me.  .   .    very long. I didn’t make them to as fakes, but that is what they can and will become. I think the discerning expert will not be fooled, but not everyone is an expert.

At the most concrete and personal level, should I throw these “to-sho tsuba” away? I am an archaeologist so I am sure that the STUFF will out last me. Even if I am not here to misrepresent them, they will have to rise – or fall – on their own. The most honest treatment might be to destroy them at this point – just throw them away.

But this is an easy case. Okay, so you have a blade you submit to shinsa – twice – and two times you get pink slips, what should you do: 1) throw it away, 2) put it back in the katana tansu, or 3) sell it on eBay?

Peter

Toshos3.jpg

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Wow, what a question Peter!  I love it!  I should probably grind it around my mental gears a couple of days before answering, but I don't have anything else to do right now.  One thing I like about how you've posed it is you've put the fake in our hands.  It's not on ebay, or in a museum, therefore out of our control, but it's actually in our possession.  A "known" fake, what do I do with it!?

 

I suppose I could use my own experience to start with. I bought what turned out to be a really bad fake Type 98, as a new collector looking for replacement parts for my Dad's Mantetsu.  That was 6 years ago and I still have it.  I'll never sell it because I don't want some other newbie to get screwed.  If I sold it, I'd sell it with full disclosure, but I can't stop the buyer from turning it around, tripling his money and cheating a rookie with it.  So, I'll never sell it.

 

OTOH, if I ever were to sell it, it's not my responsibility to control how other people behave.  It's my job to be honest.  What happens after the fact is out of my hands, literally and figuratively, and not my responsibility.  And I suppose that could be the path taken in the case of a gorgeous nihonto that is gimei.  The blade deserves to be appreciated simply because of it's beauty, regardless of the mei.  Someone on NMB once told of a Shogun that was given a gimei sword as a gift.  Supposedly both he and the giver knew it was gimei, but it was appreciated because of the honor of receiving a gift.

 

I have difficulty with this practice though, because it's starting to show up in the Mantetsu world.  The gimei doubles, even triples the sale price.  If I had one, I think I'd pay a polisher to file the nakago clean before resale!

 

But that brings me to my final doubt - like the debate over the Death Penalty - destroying fakes runs the risk that once in a while, an item will inevitably turn out to be legit.  Everyone was wrong, but once destroyed, the treasure is lost forever.  So, I think I'm back to the beginning, and simply keeping the item forever.

 

Thanks for the challenging question!

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This is, of course, a problem in all fields of collecting and antiquities and all other subsets of the broad 'art world.' Something I have recently had experience with, and which rides the line of fakery, is misrepresentation of pieces that are not themselves fakes but which are not what they are purported to be. For example, so-called kantei experts issuing fancy certificates dating swords to more desirable periods than they clearly are, or over-valuing pieces significantly. In a certain sense, this type of misrepresentation frustrates me more than outright fakes and copies of authentic items, because it is often far easier to identify an item as a reproduction than as a genuine item being misrepresented. 

 

I share your philosophical approach in some ways. As a historian-in-training, I am always considering different perspectives on historical collectibles of any rarity or grade. Personal valuation is difficult. For example, there are many gendai and showato swords which are of little interest to serious nihonto specialists and which would not make NBTHK papering, but which I would like to own as a Japanese militaria collector in the full knowledge of what they are. Often, arguably all of the time, the meaning of an artifact depends on the context from which meaning is derived. At the end of the day, if you have the knowledge of what a thing is, it is up to you to decide what that sort of item means to you. Just so long as you don't overpay for it! ;-)

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When the Museum of Fine Arts Boston made replica netsuke for sale in their gift-shop, they incised "MFN" deeply into the bottom of the Netsuke in a way that it could not be removed (they anticipated this resale problem...).  Peter, you made the tsuba, so why not sign them with your name (deeply) so it cannot be filed away without leaving evidence?  Similarly, Bruce could indelibly mark his fake in various places (once we are absolutely sure it is a fake - I get your point) before selling it with full disclosure.  I also wonder whether we should attempt to ferret out some of the modern counterfeiters.  Some of them are clearly making molds of authentic pieces and replicating them for sale on Yahoo Japan.  These dealers in Japan also sell the originals, so it's not that hard to figure out who they are.... (a few of these Japanese Dealers are mentioned from time to time on the NMB...).  Any chance of luring them to Saudi Arabia for a sale where they cut people's hands off for this kind of stuff?  Just kidding - kind of.....

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2 hours ago, 1kinko said:

Yup, just sign or stamp them in English letters.

This would work, but still begs the question of how deal with fakes in the modern age, where everything from 3D printers to high-power lasers can create almost anything. Rather frustrating, especially for newbies.

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I had a wakizashi in fairly good polish with ko kissaki that papered as Oei period with NTHK NPO.  I eventually sold it on ebay (I don't remember what it brought - maybe $1000 give or take) and the buyer found that it had a hagire, which had not been noticed by me or by the NTHK.  I refunded his money and then sold it as a study piece for $50 to a collector with full disclosure about the hagire and only after he promised not to resell it without disclosure.  I wouldn't destroy it, and even if I never sold it, it would still find its way into the market when my heirs passed it on.  I think that is about the best we can do.  

 

There are lots of these dilemmas that we face.  For instance, if you have a blade with two or three sets of papers, do you throw away the lesser appraisals and sell it with the best appraisal?   Is this ok, slightly dishonest or an unforgivable act?  

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