Updated October 2011
by Elliott Long
There are methods most successful collectors have in common. It matters not the object: cars, bugs, homes, baseball cards, and yes, fine art and antiques; collectors of these and every other conceivable object exhibit similar straightforward guidelines for being successful collectors.
The first point -and the most important and obvious- is collect what you enjoy. Passion is a necessary tool of a collector. The desire to have and delight in a collection go hand-in-hand, for without the enjoyment brought its owner, a collection might just as well remain money accumulating in a bank account so other people can borrow it. There is also the additional benefit of the residual pleasure experienced by people a collector chooses to share their treasures with. A misstep possibly taken is a person who purchases something that doesn’t necessarily appeal to them as an individual, but rather its attraction to someone’s opinion they respect. Seldom will an object bloom to a new reality for an owner who lets someone else decide for him or her. Sure dealers have their roles, but it is not as the decision makers of when to make an addition to someone else’s collection. Individuals who thrill with the hunt, and successfully find those things they wish for are happiest with their collections.
That said, dealers, brokers, curators, historians and gallery directors are valuable allies. They become a collector’s eyes and ears, and often are the conduits to the most successful acquisitions. Such qualified professionals may impart opinions on price, condition, rarity and the other variables of valuation. Collectors who arm themselves with as much knowledge as they can digest from these experts about the areas and objects they desire, as well as closely related things, find that they are confident in evaluating when a piece is right for them. Some work toward completion of sets while others search for certain examples which have notable differences. I’ve met collectors who are looking for only one specific piece, and others that are looking for every piece ever made by a certain artist. The parameter of the collection is devised, set and deviated from only on the choice of the individual. Each can make and break their own rules. Personal expertise, confidence and trust in the expertise of advisors, blend together to make it possible to obtain a great collection.
Now the minefield of collecting, valuation. What is it worth? More money than you know what to do with, buy anything and everything that you want. Now that we’ve advised that very small crowd, the rest of us want to know that we are getting a good buy or paying fair market value. Knowledge of markets, public and private is a helpful guide but it is not an end all. When specifically talking about fine art, for example, the piece is often unique and has its one-of-a-kind value. There will exist comparisons, and relative prices, but each work has its own dollar value. It then becomes a measure of what else the piece brings with it. Art and antiques have an intrinsic value beyond their financial worth. This comes from the tangible nature of the objects themselves. A person can not absolutely quantify the intent and act of the artist. Such a measure will forever be elusive, even when the artist makes a statement about why they create. It is the physical presence of a work of art which holds beauty and history within its form. It is the frozen yesterday, and the idea made solid which makes the intangible appealing. Its monetary value for sale should reflect this as well as its potential resale value and possible appreciation.
So the hunt has gone well, and you have a collection in
which to be proud. Now what? The legacy of a collection is sometimes as
important as the collection itself. It is a tangible way to preserve your
participation with the world after your time has gone. Whether your name
becomes attached to a group of works in a museum or in a shoe box
at the bottom of your grandson’s closet, it carries a part of your life
forward to be lived with, enjoyed and remembered. Even if the personal
choice is to dissolve the collection and sell off the parts, they will
pass to join other collections, possibly with your name attached if you
care to have it recorded. Collecting is a method of immorality, much like
the artistic endeavor itself.
The sword smith is not a mere artisan but an inspired artist and his workshop a sanctuary. He commences his craft with prayer and purification, "he committed his soul and spirit into the forging and tempering of the steel." Every swing of the sledge, every plunge into water, every friction on the grindstone, was a religious act.
YAMATO HOSHO Shoto
Origami by NBTHK Tokubetsu Kicho
SADAYUKI Ubu Shoto
Origami by NTHK
SAKAKURA MASATOSHI Daito
Origami by Kotoken Kagihara
SUE-BIZEN OSAFUNE Uchigatana
Origami by Inami Hakusui
SHIMADA SOSHU Dambira
Origami by NBTHK
'KAWACHI no KAMI KUNISUKE' Wakizashi
Origami by NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon
ENJU NOBUKATSU Tanto
Origami by NTHK
Custom J.TAYLOR w/ PPK BLADE
TWO CHENESS 1045 KATANA
NIHONTO and TOSOUGU ORIGAMI
KANTEI PICTURE GUIDE
MY THOUGHTS ON 'MEI'
The ideal situation would be a well preserved antique blade with a clear Mei, with the attributes preceivable for the collector to determine the blades authenticity. In reality, such blades are rare because the majority of them are 1) altered (suriage, in the case of Koto) and/or polished repeatedly, 2) lacking the Mei in the first place (mumei) or have
3) lost attributes due to rusts, pits, and/or discolorations due to natural aging or neglect.
If the Mei exists on a blade, then the evaluation can be based on photo's contained in various volumes; Nihonto Zuikan, Toko Taikan, Toko Jiten, Fujishiro's, Teiryo Toji and others. Mei related attributes can be found by paying attention to the contents of the mei, "Mei-buri" as well as coloration of patina on the Nakago.
It is important to understand that the Mei is not simply an identity of the smith; it is a 'signature', 'title', 'phrase' or even a 'sentence' that is actually written by the smith. To "read" Mei is to study the Mei-buri (how the Mei is written on the Nakago by the smith using a chisel) by comparing how it is written on the Nakago with other 'writings' by the (supposed) smith on his other blades.
The main benefit of Oshigata is that it helps you recognize the characters and "read" Mei more clearly. Oshigata enables the collector to pay attention to the overall 'Mei-buri' by simplifying the three dimensional carvings on the nakago into a two dimensional picture. The limitations of an oshigata as a two dimensional picture is that it does not allow you to see the color of patina on the nakago (critical determinants of the age of the blade) or other characteristics of the carving. Oshigata is only beneficial as an initial step of the more complex screening process involving examination of attributes, the combination of which collectively helps an experienced collector determine the authenticity of the blade with some confidence.
A collector must conclude from visual examination the actual coloration of the nakago and other characteristics of the Mei with his own trained eyes in addition to other characteristics of the blade to determine with confidence whether the blade is "sho-shin" or "gi-mei".
My collection of Japanese Swords
(Nihon-To) includes mostly pieces from the KOTO era. All of these pieces have paper (Origami) from current / past NTHK, NBTHK, Kotoken Kagihara and Inami Hakusui. Being as new to Nihon-To as I am, one must rely on the expertise of
others to include the above listed organizations.
The descriptions written for each piece in my collection are my opinion based on my studies and the knowledge given me by my mentors. Should you see something I over looked or disagree with something I have stated, please contact me with your opinions. It would be an addition to my growing education.
Learning to Kantei both swords and tsuba are very important to me. I have combined excellant material from three different web sites and with my editing, have developed information that I use often in determining style, school, and smith. Please read my 'Learning to Kantei' PAGE.
WHY ARE JAPANESE SWORDS SPECIAL?
The following contains excerpts from the book, THE JAPANESE SWORD, by Kanzan Sato. The uniqueness of the Japanese sword lies in the technical innovations devised by the Japanese in an effort to resolve the three conflicting practical requirements of a sword: unbreakability, rigidity, and cutting power. Unbreakability implies a soft but tough metal, such as iron, which will not snap with a sudden
blow, while rigidity and cutting power are best achieved by the use of hard steel. The Japanese have combined these features in a number of ways which have given their swords a very distinctive character. First of all, most Japanese blades are made up of two different metals: a soft and durable iron core is enveloped in a hard outer skin of steel which has been forged and reforged many times in order to produce a complex and close-knit crystalline
structure. Second, the cross-section, widening from the back to a ridge on both sides, then narrowing to a very acute angle at the edge, combines the virtues of thickness for strength and thinness for cutting power. Third and most important of all, a highly tempered edge is formed by covering the rest of the blade with a special heat-resistant clay and heating and quenching only the part left exposed. The result is a steel which is even harder than
the rest of the outer skin and can take a razor-sharp edge. A fourth feature, the distinctive curve away from the edge, owes its origin to another practical demand: the need to draw the sword and strike as quickly as possible and in a continuous motion. Where the sword itself forms part of the approximate circumference of a circle with its center at the wearer's right shoulder and its radius the length of his arm, drawing from a narrow scabbard will
naturally be easier and faster than with a straight weapon.
But to the Japanese specialist the beauty of a sword lies in more than just its fulfillment of practical requirements or its almost mechanical perfection of finish and cleanness of profile. The Japanese swordsmith has given his product a number of features which, although they may have a strictly practical origin, have been elaborated far beyond the simple requirement of hard-wearing efficiency in battle. One example of this is the forging of the outer skin, a process necessary to produce steel of adequate purity and hardness: this has been done in a multitude of different ways so as to obtain a wide variety of distinct grains in the surface of the blade. But it is the tempering process which has received the most careful attention. The heat-resistant clay is wholly or practically scraped away from the area of the edge in a seemingly inexhaustible range of outlines resulting in an enormous number of patterns of hard crystalline steel which guarantee that no two swords will ever be the same: and yet these outlines have no practical function beyond the simple requirement that the edge must be tempered in one way or another.