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Sword auction in Paris

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Some of the collection belonged to one of the most important European sword collectors in history. Jean-Jacques Ruebell. Father was a general for Napoleon and his grandfather a general in the revolutionary war.
He donated 350 European swords (he had all types) to the Met and basically seeded its arms and armor collection as a result. They wrote a lot of articles about him in the 20s and 30s. Since he was born rich and never had to work he devoted himself to sword collecting. Of all types and cultures. The 350 that he gave to the Met had items going as old as the 1300s.
He liked small art items, as he collected other art too, but his idea was he wanted objects he could share with friends and people who visited him to show them or teach them or amuse them.
As a result he had a lot of daggers and that extended to tanto.
As various diplomats went around those that came back from Japan and found their way to Paris by diplomacy or retirement seem to have sold off items they had at House of Drouot and he was constantly there picking up whatever they brought.
His own collection went out in 1933 and had many beautiful things (Shinkai daisho with Omori Eishu tosogu, Minamoto Masao daisho with Ishiguro tosogu, Awataguchi Yoshimitsu tanto, etc.) A very small bit of that auction in Paris were fractional parts of his collection held over since 1933 in another family.
Back in 1933 though he sold off 2 Nobuie tsuba and 3 Kaneie tsuba and a lot of other nice things... maybe they are floating around Paris still today?
Get to work Jean.

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Thank you Bruno.


I would like to discuss some of the lots as I think they were interesting. The prices amaze me to some degree. Either the winners just had way to much money but usually having money money will go hand in hand with being a smat person so I assume the wonners knew what they were doing?



On this lot I had thought the Tsuba to be very interesting. Looked like it was early Kino work. Nambokuchi periode? Juyo Quality? Hirasto school mounts otherwise? The blade I did not see any importance. I would tend to something like Muromachi or Shinto Kaga.



Amazing! I would say this is pretty sure Gimei?


Personally I liked the Koshaire of this one very much:





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Amazing! I would say this is pretty sure Gimei?


Almost certainly not Gimei. One of the great Aoe smiths of the Kamakura period. Close to ubu and long with a beautiful signature. If this one polishes right, it'll fly to Juyo and beyond with high colours. There is some bad flaw in the kissaki and who knows what else the polish will reveal. It can go any direction. I would think it's 90% Juyo (unless hagire) and 30% chance Tokuju (if it polishes right). 


Perhaps Japanese buyers fought this battle. In any case, it's a treasure. I hope that if a foreigner bought it, he will have it restored by the right artisan. 


The price reached on the curious koshirae though...what happened there I don't know. Now that one is the real lottery ticket, who knows what that wak is, and the fittings themselves are strangely exotic and could indeed reach back to the momoyama period, I have no idea. 

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The tachi by Aoe Yoshitsugu is very interesting and I feel it would need lots of further studying.


The signature of it seems to be slightly different from what was written in description, and I see it as 備中国青江住右衛門尉平吉次作 - Bitchū no Kuni Aoe jū Uemon no Jō Taira Yoshitsugu saku. The Uemon no Jō signature is extremely rare in tachi, I have only found 3 tachi signatures signed in this form (The Hie Jinja sword signature is listed as Saemon no Jō in some sources but Hie Jinja book has it as Uemon no Jō as well as several other sources too). The 3 swords that I have with this signature are Jūyō Bunkazai of Hie Jinja, Jūyō Bunkazai that is owned by Tokyo National Museum, and tachi from Jūyō 14 that I guess might be still in private ownership as I havent seen it anywhere else than that book.


Here are the swords in order, Hie Jinja / Tokyo National Museum / Jūyō 14 / This auction sword.




I cannot really comment on the pricing stuff as I just love the research aspect of collecting and not the financial side. And unfortunately it is above my skill to make guesses about the genuinity of the signature based on available factors. I do think it could be plausible with the pictorial evidence, the coloration of nakago in the auction pics might be bit different (older looking) in real life. I think also the Provenance of auction sword might attract hunters as it has been in Europe for a long time, and presumably avoiding being checked in Japan so far.

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Jussi, it is interesting that both the second from the left and the auction example on the right have a gap between the kanji to allow for the placement of the original ana.   This seems like a "tell" that it is shoshin. b

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This was a very interesting auction. 


I actually bid on the Aoe tachi myself, but unfortunately saw my dreams of owning it dissipate quite quickly as the bid price soon exceeded my humble budget. In my opinion, it looked like it had a very good chance of being Shoshin, and possibly even Tokuju, as some others have speculated. As Darcy already pointed out, most of this stuff was from a very important French collection, but this blade in particular was owned by  George Petrovich Bakhmeteff (1847–1928), who was a tsarist Russian Ambassador to Meiji period Japan.


In addition to that lot, I found these others quite interesting







I didn't investigate enough to deem if it was actually by Horikawa Kunihiro, but looked like a very fine work, albeit too expensive for me. 




Looked like early Hirata School mounts to me. Can't really say much about the blade from the pictures, but could potentially have been something interesting.




Very interesting Koshirae. Perhaps Nambokucho period tanto or early Muromachi?  




I loved the Koshirae, and while the tanto had a  Awataguchi Yoshimitsu vibe to it, I certainly suspect it was early Shinto if not later. So not exactly sure where the price was coming from on this one? 



Would have certainly enjoyed looking at most of the collection in person rather than pictures. C'est La Vie!

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The fact that this was part of an important older collection is of note, but I also think this is a case of wealthy people just blowing their money on things they don't understand either. You see it in well-attended auctions a lot.

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Perhaps Chris, but I would slightly push back on that since a signed Aoe blade from that period, much less signed & dated, and almost ubu, is going to run around 80k anyways: https://www.aoijapan.com/tachi-bicchu-koku-junin-sadatsugu/ 


I think this is more high-stakes speculation than anything else. 


Some of the items where certainly overpriced, in my opinion for what they were, but others certainly had the potential to be worth far more than the hammer price. End of the day, it is worth what another person is willing to pay at any given time.  Factor in the provenance, the treasure hunting aspect, and the prices are not as insane as they first appear, albeit, paying 70k for a sword might certainly certify you in some circles of polite society ;)    

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51 minutes ago, ChrisW said:

I am mostly referring to things like the unsigned wakizashi, etc. And a lot of the prices in this auction are still obscene displays of waste.

I feel like this is usually the case with big auctions. More informed buyers know better. There are exceptions for exceptional pieces of course, but they are by definition extremely rare. 

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I tend to watch a lot of online auctions both through auction houses, eBay, and proxy bid services. If its a big name auction and they advertise well, the prices are vastly inflated over what I see elsewhere. Sometimes by a margin of 5-10x your average nihonto prices we see here. Of course, the sites/providers take a big fat cut of that hammer price.

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I will attempt to answer this, with the caveat that I honestly don't think any of them have proven to be a "good deal from the buyers perspective,"  yet. Rather, some offer more potential upswing than others.  I would say the following could potentially, big emphasis on "potentially, " meet that criteria: 


Lot 1 (Assuming it is Kamakura period, which I personally doubt, and even then the condition didn't look great).   


Lot 2 ( The fittings are actually quite nice, but the blade needs some tlc)


Lot 5 ( If one assumes this is going to paper to Hirata Dōnin, or something like that, personally I doubt it, but I will leave it to someone more skilled in Kodogu than I to make the final call)


9( Assuming it is a student of Sekishû Naotsuna or something like that, even then, bit pricey) 


11( If it goes Juyo or higher)


12 & 13 ( If they both paper to No-sada and Morimitsu, respectively, otherwise they are both rather expensive)


16 ( Great price if it is by Nanki Shigekuni, but that is a big "if")


17 ( Totally a gamble in my opinion, the fittings are very unique and could be something special, and the blade could have some age to it.) 


21 ( If it is by Horikawa Kunihiro, huge "if.")


30 (IDK, I didn't think this was a terrible price, quite attractive overall.)


31 ( Interesting blade, with an usual shape, probably a tad bit expensive, but not terribly.)   


The rest, in my opinion, ranged from expensive to absurdly expensive for what they were. Of course, this all just my humble opinion, for beauty, like price, is in the eye of the bidder ;)  


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I think that spacing of 備中国 located bit above rest of the signature is a good sign. Although it has shorter signature without Aoe or Uemon no Jō, the Jūyō Bunkazai tachi of Fujishima Jinja also has similar spacing with even much longer gap in between.


I feel that if the auction tachi will be verified by NBTHK, just by Hozon paper it will be incredibly valuable. If there are no condition issues I feel the paper level shouldn't affect the pricing of this too radically. It should be very expensive even with "just" Hozon verifying the authencity. However if it would fail to be recognized by NBTHK then it will be problematic...


In general I don't like discussing pricing of items too much but I do feel every item went for lot more than I would have prepared to pay. I think only the Yoshitsugu tachi fell within my own preferences and I do not follow these later items that actively. Of course I am not an auction buyer in general as I don't like taking big risks and making fast decisions.


If I had to choose an item it would probably be N.24 Kunishige katana in koshirae. Unfortunately I couldn't find any reference mei for this smith. In my opinion in Europe c. 4000 € for a katana in koshirae in reasonable polish is not unreasonable, yet in this case it would be more than I would be willing to go for this item.



I think Austin described pretty well above that some "ifs" that could be but will they?

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