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Poignant words for the collector


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Words I am afraid that echo down the ages - :(


"It is with a double sadness that I come to preface this catalogue: Sadness to have seen the premature disappearance of the perfectly good man, gifted with such delicate taste, that was Mr. INSERT YOUR NAME HERE ] ; Sadness to witness the dispersion of the excellent ensemble [collection] that he had been able to bring together. Only one consolation remains for me, that of glorifying one last time the collection which tomorrow will no longer be - - and whose scattered lots will contribute to the construction of new temples erected in honor of Japanese art."   [Translated from the original French.]


Taken from the Preface of  "Catalogue: Saber guards, sabers, kozukas, arrowheads, inros.  Composing the Collection of the late Mr. Alexis ROUART"   6th of May 1911 

Perhaps even more poignant is the fact that the preface was written by another great collector, the Marquis de Tressan who was killed just three years later in 1914, just a few months into WWI.


Image is of the tsuba illustrations in the catalogue [Images are enhanced and arranged in numerical order unlike the original 7 plates]



Rouart mass plate.jpg

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For the past three months we have been encouraged to bring along pieces from our tsuba collections to the local once-a-month NBTHK meetings. One guy has the most amazing examples, all neatly arranged in lacquered trays inside tied black lacquer boxes. He also has terrific knowledge of what he has.


Last Saturday, afterwards, he sat next to me in the waiting room armchairs. "It is so hard to kneel or sit on the tatami-mat floor", he confided in me. Then he explained how the diabetes is eating away at him, and gangrene (well, the doc) has been taking his toes one by one.

He is unable now to stand properly for his particular school of sword practise. "I don't know how much longer I can come to these meetings", he added.


As you can imagine, this got me thinking, and now Dale has banged a large nail in the coffin. Anyway, tomorrow we have a special day devoted to koshirae + tosogu with an expert bringing a collection from Tokyo. In the morning, though, we have been encouraged to bring along our own examples, so I have prepared two nicely-adorned koshirae, and about seven or eight kozuka to lay out. Even so, I find myself questioning my motivation. 


Is this purely to provide high-quality learning material for attendees? There is a NBTHK tradition of confidently showing only first-class material. By what standards do I measure my own pieces? Do I want to show off my stuff and attract what... varying measures of either greed, or disdain, or envy? With the tsuba I was careful to explain in advance that I tend to collect things that attract me, not necessarily what dealers have found to be most popular, or what experts have declared to be historically valuable. My kozuka will thus be a very mixed bag with something for everyone I hope.


One consolation is listening to viewers' comments, and seeing things from other eyes. This can be a great learning experience.


But then life is unfair. The most knowledgeable people get taken from the top... and we have to try and make up the shortfall once more. Remember to give thanks for written records and knowledge databases. Hang in there everyone!

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39 minutes ago, Bugyotsuji said:

banged a large nail in the coffin

I have not meant to be depressive, but perhaps as I have gotten older I start to worry what will happen to my own collection and how little of a say I may have in where it all goes. I have realised that ALL of my collection was once owned by someone else [many others] and I am just another port of call to each piece. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is as Piers has said, "give thanks for written records and knowledge databases". I have said this before but please try to preserve your own part in the history of your collection it is just as important as any other aspect. Nothing wrong with leaving a catalogue of your collection, either in book form [even just a single copy] or some digital reference site for those that come after.  - Some nut a hundred years or more in the future might just find it and bring it back into the light. :laughing:

[Now back to my "Swedish Death Cleaning" :)]

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I’m going to put all of my swords, tsuba etc into an auction before I depart (provided it’s not sudden and unexpected) just to see how much money I’ve managed to lose. 

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Newspaper article from 1894 - [much abbreviated and translated from French]


Le Gaulois
Wednesday February 7, 1894

"......... There are now fanatics of Japan, men who have found the signatures of the great artists, have learned from the Japanese to distinguish the ancient from the modern, (because these Orientals excel in imitation), they can, on a saber guard, from nothing, find the name of the artist, the name of the warrior and sometimes that of the prince under whose reign the artist lived.

Where we only see a finely crafted object, the connoisseur discovers a whole world of things."



Well from morbid to slightly insulting? Fanatics! - well perhaps some of us take it a bit too seriously. 

Not to mention the backhanded compliment to the 'Orientals'! Even 'X' or Facebook might not allow these comments today [small hope!] :)


Whilst doing more research on old tsuba catalogues I have noticed many instances where a guard will reappear from time to time in someone else's estate sale. - [Yes back to morbid!] The interval between each reappearance seems to be about ten years [I will need to examine a few more to get a more accurate estimate] so let us hope the interval like the life expectancy has increased since the 1900s :laughing:  [How come a jar of jam can have an expiry date on it but we don't get one? :shock:]

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Boy oh boy they could write so well :



Japanese sword guards. Raphaël Collin Collection: [sale on May 12 and 13, 1922]  




"It is not without some melancholy that we will witness, today, the sale of this admirable collection of Japanese saber guards, brought together by Raphaël Collin. Thus, one after the other, these precious treasures that the first admirers of Japan were able to bring together in Europe are scattered, like the Goncourt's, like Burty, Garié, Gillot, Rouart, Dr Mène, and still others, Raphaël Collin did not want the wonders he had loved to go to sleep in the cold necropolis of some museum. He wanted them to remain living symbols of beauty, which gain a power of feeling by passing from hand to hand, witnesses at the same time of the most glorious hours of a noble race among all and confidants of our pious and refined curiosity.
It is this scrupulousness which will enable us to share with these relics to which remains attached the memory of the great honest man and the beautiful artist who caressed them..." 


François Poncetton.

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