Antique Japanese sword value
A step-by-step guide to determine the worth of an old Japanese sword
Overview of the old Japanese sword market
Traditional Japanese swords, also referred to as nihonto, are the finest cutting weapon ever produced; and they’re highly-priced.
By the end of World War 2, more than a million military and hand-forged swords flooded the US. These came from Japanese officers who surrendered and the Japanese people who sold heirloom swords at bargain price.
Some of these swords ended up as collectors’ piece; some may have been lost to time, while a percentage was passed down through generations.
Do you have an antique Japanese sword? Perhaps, it was handed down to you or you bought if from someone. Whichever the case, nihontos are always in demand and collectors are constantly looking for new fine pieces.
How can you assess the potential value of your old Japanese sword?
Inquiries regarding value are easily answered with the help of an appraiser. But appraisal fees are often high especially for a specialized market as Japanese sword collecting.
Another option is to perform an initial appraisal of the sword. Basically, it’s just a quick inspection of the sword’s authenticity, type, age and quality. These four elements are associated with the sword’s value.
To simplify the process, I laid out guide questions in valuating your old nihontos. The first step involves inspecting the authenticity of the sword, followed by identifying its type and age; lastly, examining the weapon’s quality.
Is it an authentic old Japanese sword?
Japanese sword collectors and dealers are only looking for genuine samples so the very first step is to test the authenticity of your sword.
• Metal Check
Authentic nihontos, hand-forged or machine-made, are made of steel. Counterfeits, on the other hand, are forged from aluminum to mimic the luster of real Japanese swords.
Place a magnet near the sword. If it’s attracted to the magnet, it’s made of steel. Otherwise, it’s a fake.
• Hamon Check
Hamon or temper line is the pattern, which is visible on most Japanese blades, caused by differential hardening of the metal during quenching. Most authentic Japanese sword will have a visible hamon with tiny dots or specks on or near it.
Using a magnifying glass, inspect the border between the sharp edge and the back of the blade. If you see specks near or on it, then it’s more likely an authentic piece. A smooth, cloud-like transition between the sharp edge and the body of the blade suggests a machine-made or, worse, a fake replica.
• Hada Check
Hada refers to the grains that are visible on most hand-forged Japanese swords. The grains are caused by the multiple folds during the forging of the steel. Again using a magnifying glass, inspect the blade for noticeable grains.
Don’t be surprised if your sword doesn’t have a visible hamon or hada. Some Japanese sword were forged, polished and sharpened that its hamon and hada are almost invisible.
What type of antique Japanese sword is it?
The value of an old Japanese sword is largely dependent on its type. There are two types of nihontos: samurai or military.
The prices of old samurai swords (Antique samurai sword value) usually don’t fall below USD 500. The older the sword is, the more expensive it becomes. Condition also plays a significant factor in deciding the final selling price of a samurai sword.
As for the value of antique Japanese military swords (Old Japanese military swords value), you only have to consider two main signs of value: the sword’s type and its condition.
The majority of old gunto swords were machine made making them less valuable than samurai swords. Still a shin-gunto sword in excellent condition may be priced more than USD 1000.
How old is your old Japanese sword?
Japanese sword collectors prefer pieces from the Edo Period (1603 to 1868) or earlier making swords of these eras much more priced than later samples.
It’s difficult to estimate the age of a nihonto without proper training. Fortunately, there’s a way to set a “relative age” of the sword. The rust on the nakago (tang) of an old Japanese sword can be used to gauge its age.
An old Japanese sword (Antique Japanese sword) (Edo Period or earlier) has a tang darkened by rust. Any inscriptions and file marks on it will be almost invisible. Tangs of newer nihontos are oftentimes silvery with red to light brown rust marks. Inscriptions and file marks also more pronounced.
Warning: Do not attempt to clean or tamper with the tang of your vintage Japanese sword as it significantly devalues the piece. The price of an antique Samurai sword with a cleaned tang will be 50% lower than that of an un-cleaned one.
Condition of your antique nihonto
“A good sword should not bend, not break and cut well.” This is how the quality and condition of a sword was tested. But for this self-appraisal, we’re only going to focus on the aesthetics of the sword’s blade, scabbard and tang.
Slight rusting on the blade has no effect on its value. Cracks, dents and chips on the sharp edge of the blade will devalue the sword. The same applies to the scabbard.
Rust is highly-priced on the sword’s tang. The more rust there is, the more valuable the sword is. Most nihontos are signed by their swordsmiths on the tang. Presence of the maker’s mark increases the price of the sword by, at least, ten percent.
A “mounted” sword refers to its relative completeness. A mounted blade means that aside from the blade, it also has the habaki, scabbard, sword guard, menuki, fuchi kashira, sageo, handle base, ray skin, and silk wrap.
It is rare to have a completely-mounted Samurai sword but having additional accessories together with the blade increases its price. A mounted tanto can fetch a hefty price of USD 2,000 and above.
Any engravings and intricate decorations on any part of the sword can also increase its worth.
Demand for old Japanese swords
Antique Japanese swords have always been in-demand in the weapon collecting market. Samurai swords made in the 14th and 15th centuries are the most sought after often getting an initial price estimates of USD 5,000 and above.
While it’s hard to gauge the current demand for your sword, you can safely assume that if it’s an authentic mounted samurai or military sword, it will be valued no less than USD 1000.
Once you have verified the authenticity, type, age and quality of your antique Japanese sword, you may want to increase its salability by having it appraised by an expert. But keep in mind that the real worth of your item is the amount that the buyer is willing to pay for it.