Fake antique Japanese swords
Your complete guide to real samurai swords collecting
Antique sword identification of old Japanese swords from the olden times is a very specialized skill. There are over 200 accessories of samurai swords, resulting to endless variety of designs.
There are also over 200 schools of sword-making, each with its own distinct markings. Indeed, appraising ancient samurai swords is a field that demands expertise, deep knowledge, and unquestionable familiarity with Japanese culture, tradition, and history.
Antique Sword Appraisal: Tradition and Today
Around 14th century, some aristocratic Japanese families were very good at appraising any sword presented to them: they could tell the smith who forged it, as well as the date of its making and province where it was made just by looking at several inches of the blade. Such a skill required decades of constant study and staggering knowledge on sword-making.
Nowadays, there are many genuine sword experts, museum curators, and knowledgeable private sword collectors who could judge and provide important information about the swords. If you happen to come across an antique Japanese sword and are interested in buying it, it is recommended to let professionals do the appraisal.
How to avoid fake antique Japanese swords
There are simple steps however that you can do all by your own without any costly help from genuine sword professionals. Many private collectors are undertaking such tasks by themselves in order to minimize cost and to enjoy the process of collecting.
As a start, you should bear in mind that there are basic characteristics that can be found in genuine Japanese swords, but not in the fake ones. Here they are:
Blade made from two strands of steel
Fake antique Japanese swords are made of uniform hardness. Real ancient samurai swords are differentially tempered; that is, parts of the blade have different extent of hardness. The difference of hardness in the blade is made possible through quenching, the process of cooling hot steel alloys, during forging. The leading edge is soft, so that the blade would be flexible. The cutting edge is hard, so that the sword is tough enough to resist chipping.
This difference is made obvious in the blade’s appearance: the cutting edge has a shinier tone and reflects white light better than the leading edge. The leading edge has a mirror-like polish into it.
Blade forged through folded process
The blades of fake antique Japanese swords have consistent, straight strands of steel. This is because they are machine-made, so they bear the marks of industrial mass-production processing. Real ancient samurai swords on the other hand are made from folded process; two strands of steel are repeatedly hammered, combined, and folded many times during forging. You can see tiny streaks of glossy lines running along the blade’s surface as a result of this folding.
Strong, flexible blade
Fake antique Japanese swords longer than one foot are brittle because they are made of stainless steel. They are easily chipped with a simple sharpness test. Real ancient samurai swords are springy—they produce a vigorous “zing” sound and vibration when they are swung. They are sturdy and do not break easily when tested.
Blade with beautiful carvings
Antique Japanese swords were sometimes used for religious ceremony. Thus their blades were with swirling dragons, gods, and other symbolic icons. Fake ancient samurai swords have superficial carvings. Their drawings, such as cloverleaves and teddy bears, do not have any relevance to Japanese history or religion. Real antique Japanese swords have deeply carved icons or characters. Their drawings are cut crisply and artistically over the blade.
Deadly sharp sword tip
Fake antique Japanese swords have poorly made tip or point. They have no division separating the point from the rest of the blade and no temper line. They moreover have very dull edge and their point is far from rigidly sharp. True ancient samurai swords on the other hand have clearly defined temper lines. They also bear a demarcation line that separates the point from the blade.
Distinct and clear temper line
Fake antique Japanese swords have “forced” temper lines or hamon, which were produced by acid etching. The result of this treatment is that you would see lines at the right angle of the cutting edge. Real ancient samurai swords have grain patterns on the blade’s surface, with no lines jumping off to the edge.
Ornately designed hilt
The hilts of fake ancient Japanese swords are made from brass and other cheap metal alloys. They look like oversized copper coins with affected illustrations and poorly carved signature of the smith. Real antique samurai swords on the other are made from iron and inlayed with soft semiprecious metals such as gold and silver. Their shapes, holes, and designs are cut out in such a way that, when the hilt is set apart from the rest of the sword, the hilt is piece of art in itself.
Full, strong tang
Fake antique Japanese swords have thin tang, with red superficial rusts that can be easily removed when you wipe or strike the surface. Real ancient samurai swords have a full tang that bears the signature of the smith, have deeply stained rusts, and contain about four holes. A dealer of good reputation would allow you to unsheathe the sword, pull the blade from the wooden grip, and examine the appearance and quality of the tang.
Expertly wrapped palm handle
The grip or handle of a fake antique Japanese sword is wrapped hurriedly by cheap lace or any modern-day fabric. A palm ornament, such as a gold icon placed on the grip, is absent. The handle of true ancient samurai swords is covered first with shagreen (a kind of leather made from shark or ray skin). A palm ornament is then placed on the center, and the whole handle is wrapped around expertly by cords with dark or deep colors.
Sword accessories, fittings, and mountings in fake Japanese swords are thin, poorly crafted, and badly painted. They are also “forced” to appear aged by deliberately applying stains on the wood. True antique samurai swords have well-thought out, elaborately designed mountings. They are made of precious metals like gold, wood, or hard iron. Accessories like hilt ivory plug and palm ornaments blend in well to the ornate embosses found on the hilt, hand guard, metal spacer, and scabbard sleeve.
Learning these basic characteristics would surely guard you from being victimized by shady dealers. By remembering the tips above in every purchase, collecting rare swords would be a promising and fulfilling lifetime endeavor.
The Joys of Real Samurai Sword collecting
Collecting genuine Japanese swords is a hobby that has been gaining ground for the past few decades. Many find it as an amusing way to view world history. Others have grown their fascination through dark fantasy sword fictions in films, video games, and television shows. Still other people started real samurai sword collecting for serious, even profitable, reasons.
A good adornment for interior design
A real samurai sword adds beauty, class, and touch of luxury when adorned on a starkly blank wall. It is also a good conversation starter. If you become a well-informed collector, you would be able to give a crash course on Japanese history while entertaining your guests, friends, or family members who are dropping by your house.
A good recreation
With real samurai sword collecting, people can start cultivating their interests in swordsmanship, conducting antique sword auctions by themselves, history, or artifact documentation and safekeeping. Who knows, out from any of these engaging hobbies might be a promising career as a swordsman, an auctioneer, an academic historian or a museum curator.
A smart investment
Genuine Japanese swords have one of the highest antique sword prices in the market. They are the most profitable among swords from the past. It is for this reason that private collectors have continued collecting them over the years, latching their hopes that one day their collections would be worth millions of dollars.
A good cause
The extremely high antique sword values of samurai swords lie in the fact that they have historic significance. That’s why some private collectors have made a name for themselves by giving some of their genuine ancient Japanese swords back to the country of origin. This kind of altruism or other-centeredness is noteworthy, for it reveals a deep sense of generosity and entails huge sacrifice. People who have done such things are usually perceived as modern-day heroes and are accorded with recognition, awards, and citizenship from the government.