Oshigata

An oshigata is a drawing of a sword, focusing on its hamon and shape. They have been used since before the advent of photography to record and document swords for reference. They can also serve as a fingerprint of sorts by focusing on the nakago which is transferred to the paper by rubbing.

A few heads up in this area are worth noting.

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Ladder Theory — Ladder Fallacy

That’s too expensive for only Hozon.

— Everyone

There are four levels of NBTHK papers: Hozon, Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo. This four level ranking system unfortunately means that people end up with four slots in their head for placing an object’s importance and desirability. 

This mistake takes its lead from the fact that it’s easy to grasp and remember four simple categories than it is to remember the vast and complex web of smiths, time periods, schools, their associations with each other, their place in history, as well as the myriad of individual qualities that make an item desirable.

All of that complexity is often boiled down into the thinking that an item with a particular paper should fall into a defined pricing range based on the paper.

This puts the cart (paper) in front of the horse (item). 

My complaints about this mentality were bounced back in my face by Robert Hughes with two words that really grasped the problem well. He just said: Ladder Theory. And that crystallized it all for me.

Bear with me. This is long and rambling.

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The Engineering Triangle

This may have gotten its start in project management… we have a similar thing in software development that says, On Time, Stable, Cheap, “Pick Two.”

It talks about the necessary tradeoffs when building software. Executive level management pushes down and demands very high quality (bug-free) software, with a full set of features, delivered on time and under budget. This is a virtual impossibility as these constraints are usually chosen as independent variables but they affect each other.

In order for a piece of software to be stable you need an indefinite timeline as finding and solving bugs is not a problem you can put on a calendar and say “at this point we’re finished.” This puts it in conflict with the desire to be on time. You can solve that with a huge investment in testing and bug squashing resources, but that will inflate the budget. So if you want it delivered quickly and cheaply, by necessity it ends up not being very stable.

That’s about what you can get in reality.

This matter of tradeoffs applies to swords and collecting.

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Bitcoin

So, there’s this thing, you don’t know anything about it but you’re a gambling man and you’re pretty smart. So you buy it. You’re buying it because you’re going to sell it later to someone else who doesn’t want to buy it now at $X, however that guy later will buy it for $X + $Y and that $Y is going to be your profit. This will take six months. You think this is reasonable. 

To the bold go the spoils. Don’t worry about studying or knowing what you’re doing. Just jump in. 

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Green Papers Pt. 2

I am glad my post on green papers is getting some traction and the issue is being discussed. There is some of the expected harrumphing and finger pointing going around as people are reacting to the information, and I suggest to not get distracted by it. No handwaving is required and no conspiracy theories necessary about this being a scam wherein the NBTHK accuses itself of fraudulent papers in order to get people to pay twice for papers (kind of like shooting yourself in the face in order to claim insurance).

This is the appropriate response if you think your green papers are good:

I GUARANTEE IT.

If you really believe in it, you can do it.

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eBay

One word can bring the dancing thought of undiscovered treasure through your mind, and it can also bring the crushing thought of buying a fake. 

eBay has its place as a useful tool, but there are a few things to keep in mind. None of this will be news for experienced collectors, but is a short overview for people new to this hobby.

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The humble wakizashi

You may have gotten advice when you started out to buy a wakizashi as your first item. I am not 100% sure yet if this is completely out-dated bullshit advice (like uchiko improving a polish), or if it is meant well and properly. I want to poke at that idea a bit and see if something comes out of it. 

There is certainly a bias in the market against wakizashi. This has some merit, and this in other regards lacks merit. Basically, a wakizashi is a case by case thing. Who made it, why they made it, when they made it, all of this factors into how you should be thinking about them.

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Your swords: not samurai swords. Daimyo swords!

The title refers to a conversation I had with a top Japanese dealer.

I try hard to focus on quality and to weed the weak out when I select something for my site. I don’t want to get commercial grade items and host them, this to me isn’t interesting, and I don’t want to pretend to fawn over items that were basically utilitarian in their time. 

This spawns some thoughts.

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Green papers = no papers

Actually, green papers on a sword at this point are worse than having no papers. They are a virtual guarantee that the sword was made by anyone else except for the guy named on the papers

“But, Darcy,” you say, “this that and the other thing! This one is real!”

GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS

From a standpoint of the offended side in the consecutive incidents having taken place last year, one in Fukuoka Kyushu where the Society’s Local Shinsa of Kicho Token was disgraced by an intrusion of local organized outlaws in March and the other involving forged certificates widely circulated in the autumn, the Society had entrusted the Metropolitan Police Department with investigation into those regrettable incidents. After eight months’ thorough investigation by the authority, eight persons in the forgery ring were arrested and twenty-eight more connected with the ring have been sent the police reports to the public prosecutor.

— NBTHK Token Bijutsu (English), 1981

“But, Darcy,” you say, “I really feel good about this one!”

GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS

“But, Darcy,” you say, “let me explain why this one is the exception!”

GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS

The bigger the name, the worse it is.

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Don’t bother, it has no boshi

When I started out in sword collecting, I visited the San Francisco sword show a few times. Like everyone else, eagerly looking over the tables for interesting items.

At this point I was just beginning to be able to read some Japanese, and I saw a sword with a sayagaki to Rai Kunitoshi. This was ranked Tokubetsu Hozon. Like most beginners as soon as I figured out what Juyo was, I wanted to find them myself, submit and get a sword to win in the competition. 

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You can’t teach speed

Deion Sanders ran a 4.27 in 1989. Bo Jackson holds the mythical record of 4.12 from 1986, though debate continues on whether that was an accurate time. Different evaluators and clubs place varying importance on the 40, but the old axiom remains true.

You can’t teach speed.

— Jonathan Jones, Sports Illustrated

Everyone who ever followed the NFL draft hears this when their team picks up a speedy corner. NBA has its own version if you draft a 7 foot tall center, in that you can’t teach height.

This is all true.

As usual, we can find take home wisdom from anywhere and apply it to collecting artifacts of any sort.

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Helpful friends

If you collect things, at some point you will indeed make friends through your hobby. Some of these will be good friends, some will only be linked to you by your common interest, and some others… no comment.

Your friends are your first source of second opinions, because if you choose carefully, at the very least you can get honesty from them. But you need to be careful as to what you do with their advice.

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Gimei

Out of every ten swords signed “Kotetsu,” eleven will be fake. — Ancient American Proverb

Gimei swords are those that bear a fake signature. These signatures were added either recently or some time in the past for a handful of reasons… all involving deception. The original degree of malevolence involved in this deception can vary. Even now they can be innocently bought and sold, but at some point gimei blades can be weaponized and used to defraud someone.

Currently there is only one good reason to consider a gimei sword for purchase. And a lot of bad ones.

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