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Thread: First Nihonto - anyone able to help with identification?

  1. #1

    First Nihonto - anyone able to help with identification?

    Hello Everyone,

    I recently found an antique sword that was in my price range and decided to purchase it. Since I'm fairly new to this area, I was hoping that some of the more experienced individuals on this forum might be able to help me with identification of this sword. I do have a few books on the subject (and I did as much research as I could on my own) but it's difficult when one is looking at (what I can only assume) is a lower end blade and trying to compare it to the type of things that one sees in a book.

    The seller did not give much information except that it is supposedly pre 1800's. The sword came with a registration card (the one that all swords in Japan are required to have) but no other documentation.

    I've attached a number of pictures that I took myself - some with flash and some without - as well as one from the seller that shows the full blade on both sides. Hopefully these are good enough... I had a terrible time trying to get proper lighting. I have many more pictures from the seller so if anyone wants to see anything specific I'm sure I can oblige.

    The dimensions are as follows (I've included both the Japanese and English descriptions in case I make a mistake with my terminology):
    Blade Length (Nagasa) = 31 cm
    Total Length = 41 cm
    Curvature (Sori) = 0.7 cm
    Tip Thickness (Saki-kasane) = 0.3 cm (I measure this about 3cm from the tip since this sword does not have a yokote)
    Base Thickness (Moto-kasane) = 0.5 cm
    Tip Width (Saki-haba) = 1.7 cm (again measured about 3cm from the tip)
    Base Width (Moto-haba) = 2.3 cm

    My understanding is that the type is "U-no-kubi-zukuri".


    I was hoping that someone might be able to answer the following questions or give me any additional information about the sword:

    1. Is it possible to tell the age of this blade? As a beginner, I think I would be hopeless in this area unless the blade were signed, but I've heard that some people can identify the period based on the shape and other features.

    2. As you can see from the pictures, the sword has a rather serious flaw on one side. This was well represented by the seller (and was probably the only reason that this was in my price range) so I have no complaints about it. Is this what one would call a 'fatal' flaw? How would something like this be caused? (during forging? as the result of rust?)

    3. Does this blade appear to be what one would call 'tired'? (I understand this to mean that it has been polished too much over the years)

    Thank you in advance for any information that you can provide!

    Nick
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  2. #2
    More pictures
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  3. #3
    Just realized that I forgot to include a picture of the flaw, which might make answering my question a bit difficult! I've included 2 pictures from the seller that show it.
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  4. #4
    Would I be correct if I thought that this was an ebay offering?Nick,there's no easy way to say this but sadly the sword is no good.Unsigned wakizashi are probably the most common Japanese sword you can find and need to have something special about them to make them valuable as a collector's sword,the flaw in that blade is very bad,maybe as a result of loose forging but also if you look at the mune you can see how slim the blade is compared to the tang which indicates a lot of polishing and it's likely that the jacket steel has been polished away and the shingane is starting to show.If you can get a refund,do so and find a dealer near to you or go to arms fairs or trawl the internet for a reliable source.Really sorry,don't let it put you off,as collectors and enthusiasts we've all made mistakes (I was conned by a UK dealer who sold me a junk sword for£1,400 and refused to take it back),the trick is to learn from them.

  5. #5
    Hi Chris,
    Thank you for your response - I was certainly afraid that might be the case. You're correct that it was an ebay offering. Unfortunately at this point I can't afford to buy from a dealer (or at least from the ones that I've looked at) so I guess I'll just save my money until I can and maybe buy a few more books On the plus side, I didn't pay a lot for this one so it wasn't as expensive a lesson as it could have been. As long as the sword is not fake/modern (and is just in bad shape / not worth anything), I think I will keep it and hope that I can do a bit better next time.

  6. #6
    I don't know where you're located but I would suggest arms fairs or gun shows where you have a mix of dealers,specialist Japanese sword dealers normally only offer higher end stuff unless you get to know one well and ask them to look out for something reasonably priced.Sometimes at the fairs there are general weapons dealers who have Japanese items at sensible prices,on the other hand I've found that many collectors greatly overvalue whatever item they wish to sell.Books are good but you need to look at and handle as many swords as you can to understand what you've read,contrary to what most people say I suggest looking not only at swords in polish but also swords out of polish to train your eyes to 'look through' dirt and rust to see what lies beneath.My two loves are golf and Japanese swords resulting in poverty and insanity!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    Metro D.C.
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    994
    I would not say that the money was completely wasted. There is as much to be learned from a signed as an unsigned sword. Get some books, do lots of reading, find out if your area has a Jappanese Sword Appreciation Group such as http://www.nbthk-ab.org/, there is also http://www.nihontomessageboard.com/
    "Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio."
    Elbert Hubbard

    Nakamura Ryu Batto Do, Order of Seven Hearts

  8. #8
    Thank you both for the responses. I took a look online and there does appear to be a Japanese Sword Group that is not too far away from me so I will definitely check it out. That's a good suggestion to try gun shows - I've been keeping an eye out at regular antique shows, but haven't been having much luck there. I expect I might have more luck at gun/militaria shows. I agree it would be nice to get some more hands on experience. I was in Japan a few years ago and was able to see a few museum pieces, but I haven't really been up close to anything that I might actually be able to afford.

    I'd still be interested if anyone has any more info on the sword I did acquire. I definitely realize after the comments and looking at it in more detail that it's a lost cause from a collector's standpoint due to the condition and the lack of signature. It would be interesting from my perspective to know more about it (if it is early edo vs late edo for example, if it's even possible to determine such a thing on a blade in this condition). Just the way I am about these things I guess!

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    I have to admit there is no substitute for handling and looking at real nihonto.........

  10. #10
    Join Date
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    Location
    San Francisco area
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    159
    Quote Originally Posted by chris franklin View Post
    I don't know where you're located but I would suggest arms fairs or gun shows where you have a mix of dealers,specialist Japanese sword dealers normally only offer higher end stuff unless you get to know one well and ask them to look out for something reasonably priced.Sometimes at the fairs there are general weapons dealers who have Japanese items at sensible prices,on the other hand I've found that many collectors greatly overvalue whatever item they wish to sell.Books are good but you need to look at and handle as many swords as you can to understand what you've read,contrary to what most people say I suggest looking not only at swords in polish but also swords out of polish to train your eyes to 'look through' dirt and rust to see what lies beneath.My two loves are golf and Japanese swords resulting in poverty and insanity!
    Risking thread drift...Golf and swords? Could be worse. Boats, for example, or horses.....

  11. #11
    Sorry Lisa!Guess I've just blown it again....

    Nick,further to the origins of your sword,it's a difficult thing to determine as I don't think that there's a specific time frame when these were made,it's certainly possible that it's a koto sword pre-dating 1600 (1596) but that would only be a guess on my part.I don't know what books you have but you can set yourself a little test to identify what the hamon is,what the grain is,what the filemarks are on the tang and what the tang shape is.Make a study sheet and then cross check with your reference books and some sort of picture will evolve,not detailed but some kind of insight.

  12. #12
    Well nothing wrong with bringing Golf into the conversation haha (although I've been watching a bit too much and playing far too little this year - I'll have get off the couch and try to get at least one round in before it snows)!

    I'm currently working with "The Connoisseur's Book of Japanese Swords" by Kokan Nagayama and "Facts and Fundamentals of Japanese Swords - A Collectors Guide" by Nobuo Nakahara. I took your advice Chris and I've been trying to identify the features of this sword with the hope that I can eventually learn more about it.

    The tang seems to be what my book refers to as "standard shape" with a Ha agari kurijiri bottom end (or maybe just kurijiri). The file marks look to be Katte sagari. Unfortunately those features all seem to be pretty common.

    I really have no idea at all on the grain. I can see that there's some kind of grain, but it doesn't look much like the examples I have to compare it to. Maybe Masame, but I wouldn't stake much on that (I'm probably seeing scratches more than anything). There are a lot of really deep lines on the part above the ridge line (shinogiji). I'm not sure if this is a feature or a result of wear (see 3rd attached image). I don't really know what to say about the hamon either - notare midare I guess? Some parts are fairly straight and others are wavy. The boshi looks like the picture for kaeri yoru in the book I have. It seems like the hamon has some sunagashi, but I may be completely wrong on that (see 1st attached image - there are a few areas with features like this on both sides). Also, what might these black dots be? (see 2nd image - hopefully they show up in low res. If you look at the peak in the hamon just to the right of the peak where my light is reflecting on the blade you should see them)

    In any case, it looks like I have a lot of reading to do! Thanks for putting up with all my questions. I think I'm learning a lot from this and hopefully I can exercise better judgement on my next purchase.
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  13. #13
    Nick,

    I don't know if you want any advice from a newbie like me, but there are some dealers online who have an "under 4000$ category" (for example) where they sell Nihonto that are usually unflawed, often need a polish, often good candidates for restoration, but always genuine Nihonto.

    I'm sure we're all aware that this is an expensive hobby to get into, and that being the case, I'd rather spend 1000$ on a MuMei that I know is actually a genuine Nihonto in need of some work, instead of spending 300$ on an Ebay item that hasn't even been looked at by someone who has a reputation to protect.

    When I have money to spend on a blade, and I'm willing to spend it on something other than a modern day smith, I don't even look at Ebay. There's too much stuff there even to sort through it all. I email the respectable dealers and see if they have access to anything for sale or on consigment that's not on their website, and not carrying a sticker price outside my budget.

    I've even found that some of them have email lists of lower budget buyers who can get a first look at a MuMei that came in on consignment before it goes onto their website.

    As for your sword,
    I'm not really sure if I understand what's going on with the Shinogi on your blade? I've never seen any Japanese sword with a Shinogi like that. But, that's not saying much, as I may simply have not been around long enough to see a Shinogi like that. As for the flaw, could it be a delamination flaw caused by an air/carbon pocket formed by a bad weld?

    Enjoy the hobby. Whatever this blade is, it now has a new component to it's history, that being the story you can tell about buying it and learning from it. I bought a GiMei wakizashi about a month ago that is signed Masamune. Yeah, imagine that... Who would be that stupid? ME! ;-) But I'm a sucker for long shots, and I was, and still am hoping that it is atleast from that era. We'll see after a window gets polished out of it. I knew what I was getting into though so I won't blame anyone but myself when it turns out to be tired old blade.

  14. #14
    Hi John,

    Thanks for the reply! Yes I'm definitely realizing now that dealers are the way to go. I've been looking around at a few online so at least once I have the cash I'll have a good idea of what I'm looking for.

    My impression was that the shinogi on mine is like those found on a unokubi zukuri blade - like the one shown on http://www.ksky.ne.jp/~sumie99/styles.html
    The back of the blade does definitely have have the profile I've been told to look for in that style of blade - it starts out wide, then gets really thin, and then widens again near the tip. I agree that it looks a bit strange though - it doesn't look exactly like any of the unokubi zukuri blades that I've seen in pictures at least. The thin part seems to be longer, and the lines aren't as pronounced. Perhaps it lost some of its shape due to polishing... or worst case scenario, maybe it looked completely different before and someone sanded it down to look like this (hoping that isn't the case though!).

    I hope that your wakizashi turns out to be something interesting! I must say, I'm a sucker for long shots as well

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