|"Observations" by Graham Curtis|
"The Lundgren Auction" by R. E. Haynes
Readers will remember that Mr. Haynes wrote a couple of very stimulating articles called "Are Our Primary Sources Still Valid" and "The Source of Our Knowledge of Sword Fittings" which urged us to be very careful about what we read because much of it simply rehashes material from a single source. I warmed to this, because it echoes so much of my own experience. As for sword furniture, almost all of what we have readily available on swords actually stems from one or two individuals. Most of what we have been reading in the last 20 years comes from 3 authors; Homma, Sato, and Wakayama. With the exception of a few others like Kashima, Torigoe and Sasano, there really is so little diversity of written opinion that it makes me wonder about the validity of the scholarship and the value-judgements that stem from it. I hasten to state my judgement is made never having studied in Japan and therefore not having an intimate knowledge of the strength-in-depth of research there may be there. This is simply my opinion of what I interpret to be the case.
We all treat the reference signatures in Fujishiro "Nippon Toko Jiten" as definitive examples: Because they are in print we assume they are all well documented and generally accepted, but perhaps only some are, or at worst are only in the opinion of the author. I have no idea how many opinions have been distilled. I also have no idea of the merit of the opinions. There appear to be no other compendiums by other authors. So there appears to be an awful lot of trust being expended.
The same thing applies to the field of fittings: "Toso Kodogu Meiji Taikei" was written by Wakayama, edited by Sato. "Toso Kodogu Koza" was again written by Wakayama with input from Sato. With the exception of "Kinko Meikan" by Masumoto Senichiro and Okubo Kenichi, there are few other independent sources of such magnitude. So again much goes down to trust.
Alongside the signature references, the same few authors have written books which claim to show the best examples of various artists: Toso Kodogu Meihin shu" (Masterpieces of sword Fittings) is one such. This was written by Wakayama under the supervision of Sato. But, who says they are masterpieces: Wakayama on his own, or are they generally accepted by all the reasonably knowledgeable connoisseurs of the time? Again, are they all generally accepted masterpieces, or only some, (made accessible by their proud owners) and others just called masterpieces out of politeness and gratitude, because the same owners like them? (It has, for example, been suggested that some of the pieces in "the" definitive text for Higo fittings, "Higo Kinko Taikan", are of indifferent quality, but the distinction failed to be made).
I really do worry about statements like; "this is a masterpiece". In fact I worry about any judgement that is made by anyone without validation.
I was somewhat disappointed to find this fault with Mr. Haynes in his critique of some items in the Lundgren Sale; e.g. Lot 258, a kodzuka by Ichijosai HIROTOSHI. Mr. Haynes castigated it; "....Hirotoshi, a third rate artist. At least the comic design gives Jim Gilbert a smile when he sees it". So the reader takes the impression that the buyer and his/her under-bidder are untutored fools soon parted from their money. In fact this design by this artist has appeared twice in the English edition of Token Bijutsu, both times in the section "Appreciation of Masterpieces" (No. 22, 1984, pull-out). In one of these cases it was actually the Lundgren example which was illustrated and commented upon. More recently, a similar example has appeared in the Japanese edition of Token Bijutsu (No 474, p30, 1996). Also the artist has been referred to as "....one of the high ranking goldsmiths of the Mito kinko school" by Kashima and Kobayashi (Token Bijutsu 22).
The assumption is that Mr. Haynes is aware of this, but chose to make no reference to it. Surely he, and anyone else venturing into print with a quality judgement, should always couch their remarks in the context of the judgement of others, where it exists, and certainly where it does not exist, state that they are based only on their own opinion. At least then the reader has some idea of the generality of acceptance of the view, e.g. Haynes vs NBTHK and has the means to make an own, rather better informed judgement.
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