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Starting a personal collection


KIH_777
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Hi everyone,

 

I'm thinking about staring my own personal collection of Japanese blades. Any pointers as to how to go about it? I go to shows and get to see private collections every now and then. I'd like to collect examples that are worth holding on to regardless of condition, as long as there have no fatal flaws. The collectors I know on Cape Cod have very deep pockets. They just buy and never sell which doesn't work for me as I don't have a blank budget. Any tips and/or tricks would be helpful. I'm new here and frankly don't know much. I do know that authentic shinsha origami are a plus to have.

 

Best,

Khalid

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What an awesome video. Not only due to the shoutout (thanks for that Ray) but because the advise is concise on the money.
And if I may say Ray, you have such a calming and clear narrating voice that I could listen to it for days. A great service to the Nihonto community.

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I will take Ray one step further and provide a link to his blog post that the video is based upon.

5 Guidelines for the Beginning Collector of Japanese Swords

 

And since I am looking at his website, I will provide the link to the articles written by the late Jim Kurrasch.

Jim Kurrasch articles

 

As a former editor and publisher once told me, it is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission!

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Darcy had an excellent blog post about this a while back that I completely agree with.

 

If a collection tells some kind of a story, that can really make the collection as a whole more interesting than the sum of its parts. So maybe a fun question to ask yourself would be: what story do you want your collection to tell? Is there some particular aspect of the smiths' art or moment in history you find fascinating?

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I never understood why a recommendation to be a topical collector, i.e. having a very limited collection dedicated to a very narrow and precise topic, is something commonly repeated in nihonto.

There are very few such collectors in nihonto. People who give this advice... they are topical collectors? Hm...

Was Compton a topical collector? Or probably the most important Western collector - Bigelow? No. Neither was Festing nor dozens of lesser known collectors.

 

There are subjects like coins or military decorations, where most successful collectors are topical. They collect Roman Empire between this and that, or specific Greek colonies or else. Its natural for them to have narrow specialization because otherwise there is not much point in collecting these items. You simply can't collect just "coins" with any measure of success.

In nihonto if one sees A+ sword for little money, one buys it and keeps it in the collection. Therefore - almost complete absence of topical guys. People have preferences but almost no one is hard limited to a specific topic and die hard motivated to extend his collection in this specific topic only.

 

Exceptions are a few gentlemen at Very high level who basically allocate $ and buy consistently say all Ichimonji blades on sale above certain level, and do it for Y years. To give advice "be like them" to a beginner is a stretch at best.

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Not sure I agree with you.
Someone interested in painting would rarely just gather any great works of any era and artist. You wouldn't typically find a guy with a Monet and a Picasso and a Banksy and an Andy Warhol and a Jackson Pollock and a Dali. And if you did, they would likely be collecting for value and not artistic merit.
One cannot be a master of every style, so people should mainly focus on a theme and become very knowledgeable about that theme. That doesn't mean you cannot acquire other works, but it makes sense to focus on one thematic area and learn what it has to offer.
That said, it takes a lot of time and money...most of which few have and therefore don't follow that mantra. I don't follow my own advice here either, but not for lack of desire. Just money.

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I think the difference is simple.

Someone has blades that tell three or four stories on three or four topics. Consider paying $$$$ to secure the "missing" blades to make these stories complete? No. Neither would 99% of better painting collectors.

But in coins or stamps or military decorations you are supposed to spend (max) couple of years before you accept a specialty and collect absolutely every single upper grade item in your topic to tell a "complete story"

You don't have the gold denarius with a bull torso reversed to usual - you are just not a proper collector. Better spend $$$$ the next time such piece comes for auction, or you can't show your collection to serious people. "Oh... but he does not have the reversed bull, which is the most rare of them all...".

 

There are exceptionally few paintings or nihonto collectors like that.

There are many who collect only koto or even only pre-Muromachi pieces. This does not make them topical collectors or focusing on one theme. Focused collectors are those into Satsuma, or early Soshu or Ichimonji only. This is high end collecting and its not for everyone to begin with.

In the same way there are exceptionally few paintings collectors who are 100% Durer. Or even 100%: Master of the ... + Durher + say Danube school. Topical collectors are a bit more common in this field, but still most high end Durher or Durer time collectors will have a wide collection of roughly similar taste and maybe roughly similar time, but that's about it.

The top Durer expert of our time owns Rembrandt, Leiden and God knows what else. Its absolutely normal. In the coin world everybody would laugh at him because his collection is not focused on telling one story and telling it in the best way possible. Well, neither did Bigelow's.

 

And its ok to be Bigelow or Compton. Their collections educated hundreds. What was accomplished by the focused, topical collectors who tell a story? Except Pechalov... Well, not much.

 

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Collectors have different tastes and desires, so one cannot group everyone in the same category: be focused or be broad. Often collectors start broad and eclectic and after, say, 10-15 years they decide to specialise. But they decide to do that because that specialism gratifies them and they have finally realised, after trying out different aspects, what really pleases them and evokes the emotional response that keeps them collecting. 
There are others who prefer to accumulate and every new acquisition causes the adrenaline and dopamine spikes that make people euphoric. To them it is not so much about what they buy, as long as it is likeable in the broadest sense of the word, but the identification, negotiation, acquisition, restoration (“the journey rather than the destination”) count at least as much. 
It is all very well to draw parallels with fine art or coins or stamps but this hobby is different. It has its own peculiarities even though I admit understanding collecting and human psychology evinced in all fields of collecting helps rationalise certain general behaviours. 
How the OP proceeds is up to them. But being educated about the hobby, what is out there (and where it is), the price levels and dynamics of the resale market afterwards and most importantly - about the swords themselves - is paramount. How their taste evolves afterwards is up to them. 

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something which has been mentioned but worth emphasising is that a collectors motivation is likely to change over time. What I would like to collect now is very different to what I wanted 40 years ago. But as Michael suggests knowledge is key to progress. It is fine buying what you like but the more you study the more you will understand why you like what you do.

 

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I think it is worth trying to get to the root of what you really want, as it'll influence your long term satisfaction.

 

Do you collect for, or are your purchases motivated by:

  • pleasure
  • education
  • prestige
  • something else

 

In the past I've spent a long time trawling and eventually I've bought something that I didn't really gain anything from, other than that it helped me feel like I'd achieved something. It was dopamine driven behaviour and I was seeking satiation instead of pleasure. I didn't feel "love" for the item, it wasn't driven by endorphins, the aim of the purchase was to satiate an urge and validate that the time wasn't wasted.

 

It was the same feeling decades ago when searching for rare items in a video game.

 

I don't like feeling that way, so I don't trawl anymore. I'd rather pay a higher markup from a dealer, or commission utsushi, than have some kind of compulsion.

 

The neurochemistry of this was startlingly apparent to me a few months ago when I was in hospital. I'd been dosed up with opioid painkillers during surgery and when I came to, I literally fell in love with a cheap plastic water jug at my bedside.

 

I knew cognitively that it was the opioids (synthetic endorphins) causing the effect, but I felt a stronger connection to that jug than any inanimate object I've ever seen before or since.

 

Some understanding of psychology (including biases and the true agenda behind most self-directed study) and behavioural economics is worthwhile as these purchasing decisions are often emotional and irrational (not in accordance with the rational choice model).

 

It can help develop an understanding (in advance) of what you want in order to have some idea of what effect the acquisition will have on your mood (in the short term) and your long term well-being.

 

I find it best to establish early what you dislike so that you can avoid those things. Letting go can be hard. Even if you get back what you paid, you might feel displeased due to the endowment effect.

 

There are many supposedly irrelevant factors (as per the economists' rational choice model) which have a huge effect on how you feel and are effected by transactions.

 

Quote
  • Jeffrey and I somehow get two free tickets to a professional basketball game in Buffalo, normally an hour and a half drive from where we live in Rochester. The day of the game there is a big snowstorm. We decide not to go, but Jeffrey remarks that, had we bought the (expensive) tickets, we would have braved the blizzard and attempted to drive to the game.
  • Stanley mows his lawn every weekend and it gives him terrible hay fever. I ask Stan why he doesn’t hire a kid to mow his lawn. Stan says he doesn’t want to pay the $10. I ask Stan whether he would mow his neighbor’s lawn for $20 and Stan says no, of course not.
  • Linnea is shopping for a clock radio. She finds a model she likes at what her research has suggested is a good price, $45. As she is about to buy it, the clerk at the store mentions that the same radio is on sale for $35 at new branch of the store, ten minutes away, that is holding a grand opening sale. Does she drive to the other store to make the purchase? On a separate shopping trip, Linnea is shopping for a television set and finds one at the good price of $495. Again the clerk informs her that the same model is on sale at another store ten minutes away for $485. Same question … but likely different answer.
  • Lee’s wife gives him an expensive cashmere sweater for Christmas. He had seen the sweater in the store and decided that it was too big of an indulgence to feel good about buying it. He is nevertheless delighted with the gift. Lee and his wife pool all their financial assets; neither has any separate source of money.
  • Some friends come over for dinner. We are having drinks and waiting for something roasting in the oven to be finished so we can sit down to eat. I bring out a large bowl of cashew nuts for us to nibble on. We eat half the bowl in five minutes, and our appetite is in danger. I remove the bowl and hide it in the kitchen. Everyone is happy.

 

Each example illustrates a behavior that is inconsistent with economic theory, but which I'm sure most of us can relate to (and rationalise).

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I think for me the most important thing about collecting is passion. I don't really care about the "level" of the collection but it is easy to see passion of the collector. You don't really need big ticket items as long as you are happy for what you have.

 

I've been watching some trading card collecting videos from Youtube lately and you can easily see how much passion some of the collectors have and can be hyped for example on 50$ card even if they are owning 5000$ cards etc. I know investing has creeped into many forms of collecting and I just feel pure collecting is a joy to see. I used to collect ice hockey cards when I was a kid, however I've understood that I can not enter trading card collecting anymore as I feel I do not have the needed passion for it nor the sports the cards are based on. Likewise in Japanese swords I know I will only seek to research, focus and even possibly occasionally collect those items that I have the passion for.

 

As far as stories go, I would rather hear from the person collecting than the items he/she has collected. It is very fascinating to hear whya person has made the decisisions he has in collecting, while looking at the items alone you could perhaps not understand the reasoning behind them.

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I think also that consideration of both proximate and ultimate motivation is important.

 

By considering this ahead of time you can ensure that your collection (or any other aspect of your life) brings joy in the here and now and satisfaction in the long run.

 

Quote

Proximate causation explains biological function in terms of immediate physiological or environmental factors.

 

Example: a female animal chooses to mate with a particular male during a mate choice trial. A possible proximate explanation states that one male produced a more intense signal, leading to elevated hormone levels in the female producing copulatory behaviour.

 

Ultimate causation explains traits in terms of evolutionary forces acting on them.

Example: female animals often display preferences among male display traits, such as song. An ultimate explanation based on sexual selection states that females who display preferences have more vigorous or more attractive male offspring.

 

Although the behavior in these two examples is the same, the explanations are based on different sets of factors incorporating evolutionary versus physiological factors.

 

Point being, if you like something, if you enjoy it, if it's motivationally significant, it's because it meets an innate need. The issue is to establish what need is being met and if a given purchase will continue to meet your needs in the future.

 

To bring this back to the topic at hand, consider the following:

 

spacer.png

 

A sword could meet a need at any level in the above hierarchy, but only the finest examples will consistently meet the needs of the uppermost levels.

 

  • For a samurai, a sword would be important to meet survival needs.
  • For a homeowner, a sword could be useful for home security.
  • For a member of a sword collecting community, a sword could help them feel a sense of belonging and could be a source of esteem within the group.
  • For someone who studies swords, like many here, a sword could meet their need for knowledge and help them gain a deeper understanding.
  • For an art collector, or someone who values swords aesthetically, a sword could be a source of aesthetic appreciation.
  • A sense of self-actualisation could certainly be achieved by philanthropically repatriating a famous or otherwise important blade.
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20 hours ago, Rivkin said:

In nihonto if one sees A+ sword for little money, one buys it and keeps it in the collection. Therefore - almost complete absence of topical guys. People have preferences but almost no one is hard limited to a specific topic and die hard motivated to extend his collection in this specific topic only.

 

Exceptions are a few gentlemen at Very high level who basically allocate $ and buy consistently say all Ichimonji blades on sale above certain level, and do it for Y years. To give advice "be like them" to a beginner is a stretch at best.


I would like to push back on the idea that you need a huge budget to go after a topical collection. If you want to pick a topic like "pristine examples of the early development of the Rai school," yeah, that's going to be expensive (and I would definitely like to see it). But you can pick other topics that are also interesting, but far less capital-intensive.

 

For example, you could try to put something together from each of the three major sword-smithing cities in the Edo period (Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo/Tokyo). After that you could expand to cover the other four major regions. Are we talking about an immense fortune to put this collection together? Not necessarily. But it's, I think, more interesting than "here are three blades chosen at random because I got a good deal on them."

 

That's just my opinion though, and I am just some random person on the Internet! Ultimately, I think the important part is that each collector finds something interesting and significant in the collection process itself, so that they stay engaged with it and keep learning. Whatever fills that niche for you is a good collecting model for you and your collection. :)

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Wow it looks like a thinking cap is needed tonight to address the psychoanalysis being conducted on the motive behind "collecting".

 

1) There are several forum members that have demonstrated writing ability that, if desired, can formulate a thesis or dissertation on the edifice of collecting.

2) There is the empirical evidence that does suggest that Mazlow's hierarchy of needs comes into play, and can be manipulated by the presence of outside factors such as psychoactive drugs. (I personally believe that some psychedelics "distort" the brain physiologically to the point where psychological abnormality can normalize. This exponentially increases the risk of a nervous breakdown in the long term.) 

3) Imagine likening the various formulations of "collections" to identifiable psychological processes. Insecure attachment being linked to hoarding for example. 
 

I'll check to see where this ship sailed from here in the morning.

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Khalid,

 

The last time I looked at this there was a vast literature on the psychology of collecting.  Just plug psychology of collecting bibliography into google and take a walk!!

 

BaZZa.

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"3) Imagine likening the various formulations of "collections" to identifiable psychological processes. Insecure attachment being linked to hoarding for example. "

 

I knew it ! someone has caught on to the reasoning behind my lifelong obsession ! I am an insecure hoarder, explains a lot:)
 

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BTW coincidently the next Token of GB zoom meeting on Jan 22nd includes a presentation entitled "the phases of collecting." This attempts to outline various stages of a collecting career and how the emphasis and motivation changes with time. I have an article written to support the presentation which will be posted here after the meeting.

It may help a little when trying to determine what to do next.

 

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The phases of collecting: 

 

Denial: Oh, that thing, no - I’ve had it for ages;

Anger: I can’t believe you’re accusing me of spending our holiday savings. Again;

Bargaining: I know I said I’d never do it again, but what about if I sell off some of the other stuff? 

Depression: No, I can’t sell that stuff, that’s the really great stuff that took me ages to find and forms the basis of my collection; 

Acceptance: Ok I’ll sell it, but only because your divorce lawyer says I have to. 

 

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Some of this conversation reminds me of the back and forth between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice in “Silence of the Lambs” (changed a bit to make relevant… and less creepy:shock:):

 

HL: First principles… simplicity… read Marcus Aurelius, “Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself… what is it’s nature?”  What does he do? This man you seek?

 

C: He collects nihonto ;-)

 

HL:  NO!!! That is incidental.  What is the first and principal thing he does?  What NEEDS does he serve by collecting?

 

C: Anger?… ummm… social acceptance…

 

HL:  NO!!! He COVETS!  THAT is his nature.  And how do we begin to covet?  Do we seek out things to covet?  Make an effort to answer now.

 

C:  No… we just…

 

HL:  No… we begin by coveting what we see every day.  Don’t your eyes seek out the things YOU want?  
 

C:  All right, yes…

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On 1/11/2022 at 12:06 PM, mas4t0 said:

I literally fell in love with a cheap plastic water jug at my bedside.

 

Yeah, we've all been there ...... just don't tell my Mrs. that I'm still seeing my water jug

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18 minutes ago, FZ1 said:

 

Yeah, we've all been there ...... just don't tell my Mrs. that I'm still seeing my water jug

 

I was so confused.

 

I was in two separate hospitals for different surgeries and the nurses in the first were all beautiful, while the nurses in the second were assuredly not.

 

I realised afterwards that their "beauty" was perfectly correlated with the levels of morphine I was being administered.

 

I have some notes I wrote at the time, they're kind of surreal. 

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Well, some solid resonances here.  Where are the Lady Collectors and what are their stories??  What historical figure will speak for them???  For a Collector's wife I have observed there are the Three Rings of Marriage:

 

The Engagement ring

The Wedding ring, and

The Suffering...

 

BaZZa.

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10 minutes ago, drbvac said:

What a bunch of philosophers !  I collect them for the beauty and the perfection of the weapons that they are - and I like them.  :rotfl:

 

I'll put you down as a vote for aesthetic appreciation;-)

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