|Three Years and Two Thousand Sword Fittings Later |
by Robert E. Haynes
Now it is my turn! Three years ago when I was asked to catalog the Compton collection I did not know what I was getting myself into. Those three years have taken a large chunk out of my declining years and, at age 64, I do not have that many more years to devote to the world of commerce. Now that the thousands of fittings have been dispersed, the money paid, the dust has settled just where it was, over the collectors and dealers. It would be delightful to think these three years produced even one thing of note, but they did not.
For me there were benefits other than the money. One cannot handle thousands of sword fittings without learning something (an oxymoron!). Unfortunately the press of time and conditions did not allow for as thorough an examination as I would have liked, but it did hone my thoughts and opinions within my study of sword fittings. Sadly, others did not take advantage of the opportunity to study these fittings when they could have. The Compton pieces were a thorough mix in the representation of quality, schools and periods.
It is interesting to note that at the auction of these pieces the highest prices, in many cases, were paid for those fittings which closely resembled similar pieces illustrated in those famous books published in Japan. In fact it would be safe to say that one of the prime criteria of monetary quality was familiarity. Naturally a seller who buys wants a sure sale, so why not buy what is safe? In many cases the high prices paid for various pieces does not also bestow quality. Many pieces of the highest quality did not conform to the norm, so were either ignored or misunderstood, and were passed over. It is a shame that so few can judge an iron plate for its beauty and importance without having to first apply a name to it. My good friend, John Harding, said to me many years ago, "Haynes, look it up and see if you should like it or not." I try to take his sage advice to heart. The quality of the soft metal tsuba in the Compton collection was determined by the workmanship and the authenticity of the signature if there was one. This problem of quality became very apparent with the sale of fittings in the June 19, 1993 auction at Christie's, New York. Many of the tsuba in this sale were of very high quality but did not conform to a known school or style. They were ignored and sold for a fraction of the price received by pieces in the Compton sale that were nowhere as fine. It would seem that this will always be the case since so few are willing to take the time to study iron plate tsuba with respect to judgement of the quality of the iron. Many seem to have no trouble in doing this when it comes to blades, why should it be so difficult for the tsuba?
I was very fortunate to have studied with Dr. Torigoye in 1960, now over thirty years ago. He taught me to judge an iron plate on its merits, but if you do not see tsuba of the finest quality you cannot have a firm base to make such judgements. In 1970, in company with John Harding, I met Mr. Sasano for the first time who showed us examples of fine quality iron plate tsuba from his large collection. One does not forget such pieces and John and I were to learn a great deal on the tatami at the house of Sasano sensei. I should say, and I am sure John would agree, that Mr. Sasano was perhaps the greatest expert on iron plate tsuba born in this century. His recent death has been a great loss to us all, and to the world of the study of sword fittings. In fact, the last three years have been cruel to us in many ways, and not the least has been the death of such friends and great figures as Dr. Homma, Billy Winkworth, Takeshi Wakayama, Bill Tilley, as well as Mr. Sasano. Their knowledge and their books in many areas gave us information that added to our knowledge and understanding of the art of the Japanese sword.
I will now give some additional notes and opinions concerning various lots in the three sales of the Compton collection.
Now, to move on to Sale Number II:
Sale Number III:
Sale of June 19, 1993:
Well, I suppose the above is not a great deal to say for three years work but, as you can see, I have sidestepped the "KINKO" as I leave them to those who prefer them. I hope all of this can start a constructive debate that will enhance the knowledge of us all. We are only ending the first hundred years of this study of Japanese sword fittings and I have participated in almost half of it so far, since my interest in the subject began in 1947. I might add that after the first forty years of study I realized that I would have to start all over again and learn something for myself that hopefully, is above and beyond the information I had accumulated. So, please, help me with this new study I have lurched into in my last forty years.
1)Graham Gemmell, "Onin and Kamakura Tsuba - Two Schools or One," To-Ken Society of Great Britain, Programme No. 158, (January, 1993), pp. 5-9.
|Return to Index to Articles - Go to Home Page - Email to Shibui Swords|