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New Acquisition! NTHK Papered Mumei Shinto Wakizashi!


Mosin25
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I picked up a new addition today. Mumei Echizen Seki Group NTHK papered Wakizashi. The paperwork is from September 2006, and says the sword is estimated to be from 1704 to 1711 in the Shinto era, but a friend of mine seems to think it might be a bit older and possibly from the 1600s. The blade itself seems to be in old sasikomi polish and looks fantastic. It is missing the kojiri, but I will have a replacement made and fitted at a later time by a sayashi that was recommended to me. The kashira has a samurai on it, the menuki is a Koi fish on both sides, the fuchi has a depiction of a horse, the tsuba is an iron one which appears to be zogan tsuba. The saya, I'm not sure if Edo period or older, but appears to be nicely wrapped. I only see one small flaw on the blade, but it doesn't bother me much at all. The hamon and choji looks fantastic, but a bit hard to photograph, though, I tried my best in outside lighting. I think  For the price paid, I think it's a very nice Wakizashi and I'm happy to have it in the collection. Once the sayashi added the kojiri, I will have him address the seppa on the tsuba to see if a tighter fit is possible. What do you guys think?

 

Flickr album for the rest of the pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzVffJ

 

 

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Alec,

we are only looking at photos so any statement may be wrong!

I don't see an old SASHIKOMI polish, but someone seems to have messed around with acid. The FUCHI GASHIRA set looks a lot like NAGOYA MONO, so no real excitement. 
The pictures do not allow a close look at the SAYA, but the wrapping could well be one to repair a split SAYA.

All in all, have an expert have a close look at your sword before making further investments.

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Looks nice... and I'm certainly no expert. But I had a sword years ago that had a similar looking Hamon close to the edge and I was told it had something called "Kakedashi" and that was a problem. I think it would need to be examined closely and I may be way off but it's something you might look into.   

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Hi Alec,

 

The paper gives it to the Echizen Seki school and dates it around Houei (1704). You have the seals of five members of the shinsa panel who agreed with this appraisal.
 

@JohnD - Normally if a blade has a fatal flaw it won’t receive papers so the hamon probably doesn’t fall off the edge at any point. 

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1 hour ago, Shugyosha said:

Hi Alec,

 

The paper gives it to the Echizen Seki school and dates it around Houei (1704). You have the seals of five members of the shinsa panel who agreed with this appraisal.
 

@JohnD - Normally if a blade has a fatal flaw it won’t receive papers so the hamon probably doesn’t fall off the edge at any point. 

I certainly understand that but the sword I had years ago was papered as well. I'm just passing it along. 

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1 hour ago, Shugyosha said:

Hi Alec,

 

The paper gives it to the Echizen Seki school and dates it around Houei (1704). You have the seals of five members of the shinsa panel who agreed with this appraisal.
 

@JohnD - Normally if a blade has a fatal flaw it won’t receive papers so the hamon probably doesn’t fall off the edge at any point. 

Thank you! I don't remember the hamon falling off the edge, so it should be fine. Are the age estimates with NTHK usually pretty accurate? This is my first Nihonto with paperwork, so just curious is all.

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It’s been said that unless you witness a blade being forged then there’s always room for argument as to who made it and when. The NTHK and NBTHK shinsa panels have the reputation for being right way more often than not. That’s why they’re the gold standard and a blade backed up by there paperwork will usually be taken to be what the papers say it is. 
 

Hi John, I just wanted to offer Alec some reassurance - sorry you had a bad experience. Most of us have been there at least once though.:(

 

For Alec - some historic blades by famous smiths will paper despite fatal flaws because they are “worthy of preservation”. Blades by Muramasa are an example of this as his hamon often run close to or off the edge of the blade due to repeated polishes.  In other cases there may be dishonesty by the shinsa panels- the old green NBTHK papers have this reputation and they’re no longer considered legitimate. Mistakes also happen once in a while and it’s also possible that a blade was polished after it papered and that created the flaw. 

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3 hours ago, Shugyosha said:

The NTHK and NBTHK shinsa panels have the reputation for being right way more often than not.

 

If that is so, then what? Are we buying the sword or the paper? 

 

Once the NTHK or the NBTHK issue an origami, doesn't it then become the task of the owner (or future owner) of the sword to follow up with a full and complete analysis of the "opinion" offered, especially when the sword is mumei? Did the shinsa judge get the time period correct? Why or why not?  Did they get the tradition correct? Why or why not?  Did they get the school correct? Why or why not?  Did they get the smith correct? Why or why not?  Is/was the polish of the sword correct? Why or why not? 

 

 

 

 

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12 hours ago, Shugyosha said:

Hi Alec,

 

The paper gives it to the Echizen Seki school and dates it around Houei (1704). You have the seals of five members of the shinsa panel who agreed with this appraisal.
 

@JohnD - Normally if a blade has a fatal flaw it won’t receive papers so the hamon probably doesn’t fall off the edge at any point. 

@Shugyosha, I took a good hard look at the kissaki area today on the Wakizashi and I can indeed confirm that the hamon/Choji does NOT fall off the edge at any point on this blade.

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8 hours ago, Franco D said:

 

If that is so, then what? Are we buying the sword or the paper? 

 

Once the NTHK or the NBTHK issue an origami, doesn't it then become the task of the owner (or future owner) of the sword to follow up with a full and complete analysis of the "opinion" offered, especially when the sword is mumei? Did the shinsa judge get the time period correct? Why or why not?  Did they get the tradition correct? Why or why not?  Did they get the school correct? Why or why not?  Did they get the smith correct? Why or why not?  Is/was the polish of the sword correct? Why or why not? 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi Franco,

Yes, that is so. Irrespective of your level of scholarship I'm going to take the opinion of five people who have seen thousands of blades in hand and who are the foremost sword scholars in the world over that of Franco D and, indeed, myself and anyone else. Sorry.

 

This is where Darcy Brockbank is so sorely missed as he wrote about this many times and way more eloquently than I can but I'll try anyway. A paper can do a number of things:

 

At Hozon level and likely with most NTHK papers where the attribution is to a minor school only such as "Takada" or "Shimosaka," and if the paper specifies a given time period, what you are buying is a sword with reassurance that it is a genuine blade. This is useful for novice collectors in that they have a foot on the ladder and they know that they haven't bought a pup. The more diligent amongst them will go away and do what you suggest in terms of research and then come to the conclusion that it is not possible to research the blade any more fully as, whilst the blade has some characteristics of the school or one of the styles it worked in, it isn't possible to be more specific. If it was, the shinsa panel would have specified an individual smith.

 

Often a NBTHK paper will verify a signature but specify nothing further. This is potentially a more dangerous situation for a buyer where there are multiple generations of smiths signing in the same way as sellers tend to talk up the blade as being by one of the more important smiths in that lineage or from a more appealing time period. Where there is no date or period specified (the NTHK will usually specify a date and province in the notes section on the back of the paper) this is where the buyer needs to do their research before buying. Often, however, the buyer is in the same situation as that set out above - it is not possible to research the blade more thoroughly due to a lack of available source material, the language barrier to be overcome in order to access available source material etc and, oh yeah, if it were possible to be more specific the shinsa panel would have been.

 

If the workmanship on a blade suggests quality and/ or the owner has an opinion that it might be a significant blade then it is probably worth getting this confirmed by the NBTHK as it has a more solid reputation than the NTHK and the owner can then potentially begin the process of seeking higher papers or invest in a polish knowing that the blade merits the outlay.

 

When I say that the NBTHK and NTHK are right more often than not, I'm not saying that they are infallible. Shinsa have become time pressured with way more blades being evaluated than in the past and this will inevitably lead to errors. Recently a blade with a hagire passed shinsa and the suspicion was that this is because shinsa panels are cutting corners by not looking at blades if they can quickly confirm a signature. There are swords with more than one paper and to different schools and swords get re-evaluated at Juyo or Tokubetsu Juyo level and effectively marked up or down.

 

So, do you buy the sword or the paper? This is a foolish question as it implies that you can only do one or the other. In fact, what you do is buy quality. If you can learn to identify quality and its various degrees and know what you should pay for what degree of quality then you are well placed, but beyond a certain price point you'd be foolish not to have your own opinion backed up by that of the NBTHK and I certainly won't but your mileage may vary.

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Quote

When I say that the NBTHK and NTHK are right more often than not, I'm not saying that they are infallible. Shinsa have become time pressured with way more blades being evaluated than in the past and this will inevitably lead to errors. Recently a blade with a hagire passed shinsa and the suspicion was that this is because shinsa panels are cutting corners by not looking at blades if they can quickly confirm a signature. There are swords with more than one paper and to different schools and swords get re-evaluated at Juyo or Tokubetsu Juyo level and effectively marked up or down.

 

I have a question, did Darcy (RIP) even once attend a NBTHK shinsa ? I doubt it very much; so, his opinion is only worth what it is worth ie the opinion of someone who speaks without knowing.

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He spent many months in Japan, hanging with top dealers, Tanobe san, and others in the highest levels of the sword world there. So YES.....I expect he attended many shinsa. :doubt:

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21 minutes ago, b.hennick said:

Can someone confirm that observers are allowed to watch s shinsa in action?

 

The above sword has nothing to do with my opinion as I have stated the obvious before. Shinsa standards have lazed greatly in the last 20+ years.  Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's not. 

 

-Yin and Yang. 

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11 hours ago, Shugyosha said:

Yes, that is so. Irrespective of your level of scholarship I'm going to take the opinion of five people who have seen thousands of blades in hand and who are the foremost sword scholars in the world over that of Franco D and, indeed, myself and anyone else. Sorry.

 

John J.,

 

You are misunderstanding what is that I'm saying. So, let me restate that at the point the shinsa team renders an opinion, it is at that point where the sword owners homework begins, especially when it involves a mumei sword. How and why did the shinsa team reach their conclusion? Were they correct? Were they incorrect? If so, why or why not? This is what I'm saying! I'm not pretending to know more than the shinsa team! Further, the reason that it is important to bring up the significance of polish is that the shinsa team can only judge by what they can see. It is critical for collectors and sword owners to understand what that means. 

 

11 hours ago, Shugyosha said:

 

So, do you buy the sword or the paper? This is a foolish question as it implies that you can only do one or the other. In fact, what you do is buy quality. If you can learn to identify quality and its various degrees and know what you should pay for what degree of quality then you are well placed, but beyond a certain price point you'd be foolish not to have your own opinion backed up by that of the NBTHK and I certainly won't but your mileage may vary.

 

 

Foolish, hmm. Then, you bring up quality while at the same time say "If you can learn to identify quality." That is one hell of a big "if" ! And what " if " one cannot? Tell me, have you never seen a sword with papers, including upper level papers, and thought that it would be a mistake to buy that sword? 

 

11 hours ago, Shugyosha said:

but beyond a certain price point you'd be foolish not to have your own opinion backed up by that of the NBTHK and I certainly won't

 

Oh, so in the end you do buy the paper. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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2 hours ago, Baba Yaga said:

Shinsa standards have lazed greatly in the last 20+ years.  Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's not. 

 

How and when has it been a good thing? Good for who? 

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34 minutes ago, Franco D said:

 

How and when has it been a good thing? Good for who? 

Franco, I think you're smart enough to know the answers. I'm not prepared to get into Japans economical and geopolitical issues with group-think.  

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Franco, 

There are many Juyo level blades that I wouldn’t consider spending money on as I couldn’t live with them. I need to own a blade in good enough condition that I can enjoy the features that are integral to the maker or school. I’m interested in the blade as art not as an artifact. 
 

No I don’t just buy the paper. You’re deliberately misreading what I’m saying. Have another read, but mainly f@ck off and argue with someone else. 

 

 

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@Franco D

 

I think another important aspect that your missing. Is that it depends on the level of your knowledge and understanding of these swords. As someone new to collecting it strikes me not surprisingly how unversed some dealers for example can be of papers.

 

If your a new collector papers are important. Papers are what confirm that the sword is genuine. Signatures can and are faked in the nihonto world. Papers carry the weight. 

 

I've see  enough documentaries and books which demonstrate how easily in Japan experts can identify a sword. There are kantei and shinsa competitions which can be viewed. They have years of experience and have seen more blades than we can dream of. 

 

Only at very advanced or high stages can someone be able to identify a blades smith or school. The age of the sword isn't as difficult due to shape an obvious feature. 

 

The other exciting aspect is that one who buys a paper sword should still do research on who the Smith was ect. This educates a collector with ease. 

 

However outside of Japan, only America I beleve has the luxury of viewing many different type of swords and schools due to a big inventory and various sword shows throughout the year. 

Some people like myself have to put our confidence in hozon papers. And I'd rather buy a papered blade than one that isn't. Even if it's signed. 

 

The risks are too high in the world of nihonto, especially with money and fakes. 

 

Only today I spoke to a millitria dealer who doesn't want to deal with nihonto at all. And he had a valid point that the subject is far too deep and broad, that buying is a risk. And would only take a nihonto for a week or more examination with several third parties before agreeing to sell on. 

 

I couldn't disagree with him. 

 

Regards 

 

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15 hours ago, Brian said:

He spent many months in Japan, hanging with top dealers, Tanobe san, and others in the highest levels of the sword world there. So YES.....I expect he attended many shinsa. :doubt:

 

Just your opinion, not a fact.   Shinsa is not "open bar".  

 

How many times have you been to Japan ?

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17 hours ago, Jacques D. said:

I have a question, did Darcy (RIP) even once attend a NBTHK shinsa ? I doubt it very much; so, his opinion is only worth what it is worth ie the opinion of someone who speaks without knowing.

This statement is itself the opinion of someone without knowing. Who knows if Darcy attended shinsa……but why try to insult someone who has contributed constructively to this forum and who, very sadly has passed away and is not here to defend himself! That is not respectful and should have no place on this forum.

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Kantei is an interesting thing. I would argue its pretty easy if what you try is to get a general perceptions of the blade - quality level, period, general school. To go beyond is both very difficult and usually very uncertain. In books it sounds like you can easily distinguish sue Bizen Kiyomitsu from Tamamitsu from something-mitsu, it very seldom pins down in practice.

Also when one invites a high level person to judge a collection, unless its filled with signed shinto pieces, you almost never get an exact opinion. They will stick to period-general school-maybe couple of names format.

 

To put it bluntly - here is a basic waki. There are two important pieces missing - boshi and nakago, which one always has to include when asking for the opinion.

But even as is - its mino-ish. It can be Echizen Seki. It can be Mino Seki. It can be Jumyo. Does it change anything? No. Its the same group of schools. The differences are minute and in most cases unimportant. 

It could even be in reality someone in a completely different province imitating the style. 

Does not matter and will not be traced back to this one lad.

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Every appraiser in every time suffers from the same great temptation which has nothing to do with his knowledge.

He has a blade which can be treated optimistically and given a great name or treated pessimistically and given an average school. It can be Etchu Tametsugu or plain Uda. Go or Naokatsu.

If he gives it a good name, the submitter will say "finally I found a smart person who understands how great my best blade is". And he will bring back his business many times over.

The problem is he will also drag his blade to every damn club, boasting how he found this unpapered blade and knew its something special, blah, blah, blah.

And a lot of people will say "John's papers? He must be taking bribes to call it Go. Its just not at the level".

 

So if you like the money you judge optimistically.

If you are afraid of your friends shaking heads and pointing fingers you judge conservatively.

In theory there could have been people who ignore everything except what they see in the blade, but they don't exist.

 

One has to remember - in a modern society most people simply don't have any opportunities to develop qualities like valor. This is not something you just get from birth. Conditions of the most people are too stable, predictable and can be improved solely by satisfying slightly superior members of the same occupation etc..

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20 hours ago, Jacques D. said:

 

I have a question, did Darcy (RIP) even once attend a NBTHK shinsa ? I doubt it very much; so, his opinion is only worth what it is worth ie the opinion of someone who speaks without knowing.

 

The NBTHK shinsa is not open to outsiders and is behind closed doors. So Darcy would not have been able to attend a session. And why even ask that question in such a petty and irrelevant manner, as it is not pertinent to the discussion whatsoever! 

In fact Darcy has not talked about the shinsa panel being pressed and looking at signatures only.

That statement came from elsewhere (two different sources in fact) and I do not wish to quote names. But I have also heard that when an attestation is obvious (eg a very clear Sanbosugi hamon with some nie and some sort of nagare itame, etc) and the signature is OK, they would not spend too much time and give it to the obvious maker with the signature on the tang (eg  Kanemoto sandai, yondai, whatever). 

 

Next, not all members of a shinsa panel are disclosed or known outside of the NBTHK so as to minimise external influence. 

What is however possible is to sit down with a shinsa member some time afterwards and ask about a certain attestation or the opinion of the shinsa (member). I have had the pleasure of such a sit-down, facilitated by another well-known friend and contact in Japan, and listened to the gentleman explain what he thought. Fortunately, the friend could translate for me what the NBTHK gentleman was saying.

Is this part of the standard procedure? Or is this something that my friend could organise because he was well known / connected in sword circles? I do not know... But it is possible to get a little extra colour beyond just the paper. However, it happens at the NBTHK HQ in Tokyo. 

 

As far as I know, only in the USA, with the NTHK, were some of the American organisers allowed in the shinsa room. But again, I have not really participated in those processes so US members will know better. I have read reports here of submitters being able to peer over in the shinsa room, and also some of the NMB members. 

 

 

Kiril makes some very good points, which Darcy also made by the way. Darcy had an excellent post about 'fungibility' of certain attributions. Some nondescript schools, or indistinct makers, made such generic work that an attribution could swing one way or another on a mumei blade but roughly fell within the same quality bucket with the similar features and craftsmanship. One should not take it personally. It is what it is. 

 

 

So for the blade here, indeed Mino seems right and fair enough. The owner could spend a lot of time looking for features that differentiate it from other sub-schools of Mino but the blade will not become a Soshu masterpiece.  However, the owner can still learn in the process and eventually that is part of the hobby and pleasure of this pursuit.  

 

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This is maybe somewhat off topic, but I'm kind of surprised at how much people expect of low grade papers given the low cost.

 

I've seen time with a PhD advisor billed at $500+ per quarter hour.

 

With a panel of 5 experts I wouldn't be surprised if:

  • Hozon was concluded within 2 minutes
  • TH was concluded within 3 minutes
  • Juyo was concluded within 10 minutes
  • TJ was concluded in 15 minutes

 

Meaning that a sword passing TJ could have only spent 30 minutes being examined by the panel (in total).

 

I obviously don't have any insider information, but I wouldn't expect the fees paid to buy much more time.

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7 minutes ago, mas4t0 said:

This is maybe somewhat off topic, but I'm kind of surprised at how much people expect of low grade papers given the low cost.

 

I've seen time with a PhD advisor billed at $500+ per quarter hour.

 

With a panel of 5 experts I wouldn't be surprised if:

  • Hozon was concluded within 2 minutes
  • TH was concluded within 3 minutes
  • Juyo was concluded within 10 minute
  • TJ was concluded in 15 minutes

Meaning that a sword passing TJ might have only spent 30 minutes being examined by the panel.

Mark, it is not quite like that :))

I have heard Juyo and TJ take several days. They approach it seriously. 

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26 minutes ago, mas4t0 said:

This is maybe somewhat off topic, but I'm kind of surprised at how much people expect of low grade papers given the low cost.

TH was concluded within 3 minutes

 

Yes, and a lot of it is checking there are no fatal flaws.

Most kantei is obvious.

Its usually wrong to expect them to spend hours looking at all angles to catch a glimpse of the one sparkle still seen in unpolished blade. Unpolished blades are always judged conservatively.

Both NBTHK and NTHK usually do take after-questions, the answer will typically be one line pointing out to one-two kantei feature. "Kasane is too thick", "Jigane is zanguri".

 

The important part for some in Japan - you can sit down with a shinsa member beforhand. Or submit through someone whose name by itself turn heads.

 

What surprised me a bit seeing shinsa as an old fashioned institution... There is a Confucian concept for a panel the voting starts with younger members or in a discussion the senior members are not supposed to express their opinion until many of the younger ones do.

You do see it done here and there in Japan, but shinsa does not seem to work in this fashion; one, less often two, people can be the decisive voice.

 

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