21 October 2019

Those who want to start collecting original Japanese swords, often ask me the classic question: "how much can an original katana cost?". By now, I have developed a standard answer which, without wishing to be offensive, states: "more or less like a painting". After creating a sort of shock in the client, I start explaining why we cannot speak in such general terms about the price of an original samurai sword. The similarity between nihontō and painting is indeed fitting under many points of view, since the price of a Japanese sword is determined, like that of a painting, by different variables. We see the most important ones, analyzing them as if we were looking at a painting, a type of work of art that we are more used to looking at:
 
  • Period. Is it an old blade? Or a modern or contemporary one? Does this really affect the price? As a matter of fact, not much, exactly as an impressionist painting can be worth much more than a Renaissance one.
  • School, author and signature. Can we attribute the sword to a certain school of Japanese swordsmiths? Or maybe even to a particular author? And how important is this author? These are all variables that significantly influence the price of an original antique katana.
  • Certification. Just as a valid art historian can confirm the autograph of a painting, even for Japanese swords you can reauest fron some recognized associations to have some kind of certification, attributing unsigned swords or confirming the originality of the signed ones.
  • State of preservation. In Japanese swords, as true for any other form of art, preservation has a great influence on the price of the blade.
  • Dimensions. Larger sizes generally correspond to higher prices. The simple reason is that there are fewer katanas than wakizashi, since the former could only be worn by samurai, while blades under 60cm could be worn by anyone.
  • Frame. What I immediately tell the neophyte, again following the similarity of painting, is "the blade is the painting, the mounting is the frame". The whole mount (koshirae) can certainly add value to the blade, but let's focus on what is the real protagonist of the purchase of an original Japanese sword: the blade.
I hope it is therefore evident that as no one would ever think of entering an art gallery and asking how much "more or less" a painting costs, even asking for the "average" price of an original Japanese sword does not actually have much sense.
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