from SHO-SHIN by Robert Cole

Divining from some several thousands, the one smith who made an old sword might seem an impossible task, and would be were it not for one simple fact: the sword makers of old Japan made their works to such a highly stylized degree that each line, plane, mode of forging, body shape and file mark sum as an individual trademark, as specific to its maker as a flag is to country. In order for value to be set, an appraiser must specify origin. Relative value of the works of a smith or school are historically well-established and variations presented by unique pieces follow equally well established appraisal criteria.

The method of defining origin is old and quite appropriate.

The first appraisal step is to reduce the splay of historical possibilities by placing era - KOTO, SHINTO, SHIN-SHINTO.

Once the limits of era have been established, the actual time period is considered. Placing time is accomplished with sword shape

          SUGATA: -SORI (arc of curvature)            = DATE
                          -FUNBARI (taper in width)
                The date offers the schools and smiths contemporary to the sword being appraised.

When time has been confined to a specific historic and social environment, the appraisal-points will reveal the province

          SUGATA: -SORI                               = PROVINCE
                          -KASANE (blade thickness)
                          -HADA and HAMON
                  The  date and province together reduces possibility to a group of men who either knew each other personally, or of each other's work.                

Each school in a province is differentiated by style

There were a very limited number of individuals working in a school at a given time. At this fifth step in the appraisal process, a sword can scream its author

     SUGATA and NAKAGO, blade construction and steel, along with HADA and HAMON (folding pattern and temperline), and other considerations expose the hand of actual school and smith.


  There were three eras of sword history.  

 KOTO   "Old Swords"   -  from about 800 to 1600 
SHINTO   "New Swords"   -  1600 to 1781        
SHIN-SHINTO   "New-New Swords"   -  1781 to 1868

An experienced appraiser knows, at a glance, the associated 
historical era because each sword clearly exhibits the style 
characteristics of the era in which it was made. Regardless  of 
experience, appraisal steps are the same for any sword. One must first
place historical era. 

__________________________________ / The Five | KOTO Schools | (Before 1600) | _______________________ | / | | | | | | | \ This Way To KOTO \_________________ The Seven This Way SHINTO Provinces To SHINTO (After 1600) ________________ This Way / To SHIN-SHINTO | / | | | | | | | \____________________ | SUISHINSHI | SHIN-SHINTO and The Later- | Sword Stylists \_______________________________ (After 1781)

Placing Era

The following are rules of thumb for each era. A more detailed treatment is carried forth in the text. One new to appraisal should study the chapters on NAKAGO, SIGNATURES, JUDGING QUALITY, and especially the introduction and historical notes for each era in the APPRAISAL OF BLADES section, KOTO, SHINTO and SHIN-SHINTO.

THUMB RULES: Placing Era

KOTO - Blade: Soft steel. Graceful curved styles
NAKAGO: Dark color - soft texture

A KOTO may have received many polishes over the years, and the resultant loss of skin steel is quite noticeable in the JI. Polishing opens the body of a sword, and an over-polished blade will have less width. With a reduced HA, the YAKIBA will be less wide. Such an older sword may have loose grain, WARE, and might have core steel exposed. Such a blade may be considered, "tired."

Any sword will usually have nearly original thickness where the NAKAGO meets the blade. By running the thumb and forefinger along this area (pinching the blade), one is able to feel a difference in thickness. This determines the number of polishes sustained.

KOTO that have not received many polishes might be perfectly "healthy", without WARE, but the steel, in any case, will differ from SHINTO or SHIN-SHINTO because it was hand made from single-source, privately smelted iron. Among its several unique qualities, KOTO steel is comparatively soft. One comes to know, very quickly, the differences between old steels and new.

A KOTO may have more and finer JI-NIE than SHINTO. The earlier KOTO school founders had greater complexity and subtlety of color.

Age increases the likelihood of change. KOTO has more examples of SURIAGE NAKAGO and more NAKAGO with several MEKUGI-ANA. NAKAGO surface texture can be soft and smooth with rounded lines and edges. The color is dark. Signatures are often not highly stylized and usually made with fewer characters. Any part of an original tang will reveal the original length. Experience teaches one to accurately judge the original shape of nearly any piece even thoughit may have been completely altered. In original state, KOTO are generally longer than SHINTO.

SHINTO - Blade: Hard steel. Stout styles, fuller KISSAKI, and less curvature. Often thick and heavy with less JI-NIE when compared with KOTO. Shallow SORI blades may show gentle taper.
NAKAGO: Medium to dark color. Firm smooth texture. Signatures became stylized trademarks. Titles became commonplace. Gold inlay cutting tests will almost always have an early to mid-SHINTO date.

Early SHINTO styles were a copy of the older and, in many cases, cut-down KOTO. Therefore many are relatively short and straight.

After the very early KOTO style-copying, a certain width in the MONOUCHI section can be seen (mid-SHINTO). Although some pieces might seem somewhat clumsy as compared with KOTO, "KAM-BUN" style displays its own very sophisticated elegance. See SHINTO Schools

SHINTO is not comparable with KOTO.

SHINTO steel was created from manufactured, traded and even imported, raw material. It is generally hard. A SHINTO can be a short, hard sword that may feel heavy. MASA likely in the SHINOGI.

SHINTO were made in the TOKUGAWA period, and some have "fancy" temperlines. Many SHINTO have YAKIDASHI (SUGU near the MACHI).

A SHINTO is newer than KOTO and, with fewer polishes, maybe less "tired." SHINTO may be thicker and stronger with fewer examples of SURIAGE NAKAGO. NAKAGO texture can be smooth and dark but without the soft texture associated to KOTO. See NAKAGO

Signatures became highly stylized, with titles a normality. The occasionally found cutting test may be affixed in gold.

SHIN-SHINTO - Blade: Hard steel or a mix. Often long. A mix of style variations. Shallow SORI blades may have even width.
NAKAGO: Medium to medium dark color. Hard or firm texture. Signatures were often highly stylized trademarks and occasionally have CAO and forging marks. Never SHOWA stamp.

SHIN-SHINTO were tradition renewed. The style of the KOTO lived again as revered re-creations. SHIN-SHINTO are often long with SUGATA and HAMON in the style of one of the Five Schools of KOTO. The NAKAGO of SHIN-SHINTO are least affected by age. Their signatures are often long and can have special orders. Sometimes cutting tests were included. CAO (trademark monogram) and forging stamps were a part of some signatures. Gold inlay is not usual on SHIN-SHINTO. Steels can be hard or a combination. KOTO traditions were pursued, but using currently available iron.

JU-SAN no MITSUKE - Discovery of the Thirteen Points

The secret to appraisal is appreciating and cataloging different aspects of
the following sword characteristics in two operations that reveal
time-period and school for an individual smith.          

   1.    SUGATA  (shape)             MI - Blade style 
                  Original shape?                  HIRA-TSUKURI?
 ____________________                SORI - Depth?  Symmetry?
 JU-SAN no MITSUKE   |                                KOSHIZORI?
"Discovery of the    |                                TORIIZORI?
    Thirteen Points" |                                 SAKIZORI?
  -MI                |               FUNBARI - Tapering?
  -SORI              |                         Width of MOTO-HABA
  -MUNE              |                         Width of SAKI-HABA
  -KISSAKI           |               SHINOGI - Blade thickness?
  -HADA              |                          High SHINOGI?
  -Steel Color       |                           Low SHINOGI?
  -HAMON             |                  Plane-width of SHINOGI-JI
  -BOSHI             |               NIKU - "Meat" 
  -KAERI             |                            Convexity of JI
  -YAKIBA Color      |               MUNE - Style?   Height?
  -NIE               |                                Width?
  -NIOI              |               KISSAKI - Style?  Size?
  -HORIMONO          |                               FUKURA?
                                          MONOUCHI - Blade width?
                Note HORIMONO and grooves (HI)         Curvature?

   2.    HADA  (Grain)         Pattern: KISSAKI
                Color and texture       SHINOGI-JI
                                      Lamination lines:  HA
                JI-NIE, CHIKEI,                          SHINOGI
                and UTSURI                               MUNE
   3.    YAKIBA    Color and clarity   BOSHI - Shape?
                                       MONOUCHI - Pattern?
                Three Parts            HAMON - Pattern? 
                of HAMON: BOSHI        YAKIDASHI?
                          HA          Specific intricacy:  NIE
                          YAKIDASHI               ________ NIOI
                ______________________________        KINSUJI?
   4.    NAKAGO                    Style              INAZUMA?
                                   Length             TOBI? 
           Color, texture,  and    NAKAGO-MUNE        YO?
           condition of rusting    JIRI               YUBASHIRI?
           Inscriptions            NIKU
           Alterations?            MEKUGI-ANA 

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