What's It Worth? Samurai Swords – The Stuff Of Legends

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Few things are more confusing in the world of antiques than samurai swords. Some say they are noble, some say the represent terror – and both are correct. Centuries ago, the Japanese became experts in techniques of sharpening fine steel. Using almost medieval tools, they crafted what Katrina calls the “thermonuclear device of their period.” Indeed – in early Japan, the sharpness of these tools was tested on human beings. (You read that correctly.) These swords were often identified by gold writing on the hilt identifying the maker of the sword and the identity of the poor chap the sword was tested on. It’s too gruesome to describe in detail, but there were several cuts prescribed to various parts of the anatomy. While they were not ALL tested on humans, the humans who were put through this were criminals. I have heard two schools of thought on this: Some say the test subjects were not considered human because of their criminal behavior. Others maintain that the subjects’ crimes were forgiven and their families no longer dishonored once the criminals were subjected to this process. (Later, testing was done on swine or other animals.) The fact remains – these swords are highly sought after. Additional features that drive collectibility of samurai swords are their artistic elements. The tsuba (or hand guard) of each sword can be worth from $50 to $5,000 for the wrist guard alone – if old and highly decorated. Furthermore, the menuki (or decorations on top of the handle or tsuka) are of great interest. They are like the tsuka, very decorative, sometimes made of mixed metals (iron, silver, gold, etc.) and often very old. Valuation is determined on an individual basis. WWII issue swords can be worth as little as $100, but often the tsuba is much older, sometimes centuries older than the sword; and the tsuba can be worth more than the sword itself. The most expensive sword we’ve owned was an aforementioned gold-inlaid sword that we paid over $5,000 for. (It was tested on a human being.) Value depends on length of blade, type of “temper line,” decoration, age and swordmaker. Three former Sothebys.com associates and two art historians on staff. Call or email us if you want to deal with Tampa Bay’s leading auctioneer. We have sold the contents of museums and collections for USF. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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