Three Years and Two Thousand Sword Fittings Later
   by Robert E. Haynes

Now it is my turn! Three years ago when I was asked to catalog the Compton collection I did not know what I was getting myself into. Those three years have taken a large chunk out of my declining years and, at age 64, I do not have that many more years to devote to the world of commerce. Now that the thousands of fittings have been dispersed, the money paid, the dust has settled just where it was, over the collectors and dealers. It would be delightful to think these three years produced even one thing of note, but they did not.

For me there were benefits other than the money. One cannot handle thousands of sword fittings without learning something (an oxymoron!). Unfortunately the press of time and conditions did not allow for as thorough an examination as I would have liked, but it did hone my thoughts and opinions within my study of sword fittings. Sadly, others did not take advantage of the opportunity to study these fittings when they could have. The Compton pieces were a thorough mix in the representation of quality, schools and periods.

It is interesting to note that at the auction of these pieces the highest prices, in many cases, were paid for those fittings which closely resembled similar pieces illustrated in those famous books published in Japan. In fact it would be safe to say that one of the prime criteria of monetary quality was familiarity. Naturally a seller who buys wants a sure sale, so why not buy what is safe? In many cases the high prices paid for various pieces does not also bestow quality. Many pieces of the highest quality did not conform to the norm, so were either ignored or misunderstood, and were passed over. It is a shame that so few can judge an iron plate for its beauty and importance without having to first apply a name to it. My good friend, John Harding, said to me many years ago, "Haynes, look it up and see if you should like it or not." I try to take his sage advice to heart. The quality of the soft metal tsuba in the Compton collection was determined by the workmanship and the authenticity of the signature if there was one. This problem of quality became very apparent with the sale of fittings in the June 19, 1993 auction at Christie's, New York. Many of the tsuba in this sale were of very high quality but did not conform to a known school or style. They were ignored and sold for a fraction of the price received by pieces in the Compton sale that were nowhere as fine. It would seem that this will always be the case since so few are willing to take the time to study iron plate tsuba with respect to judgement of the quality of the iron. Many seem to have no trouble in doing this when it comes to blades, why should it be so difficult for the tsuba?

I was very fortunate to have studied with Dr. Torigoye in 1960, now over thirty years ago. He taught me to judge an iron plate on its merits, but if you do not see tsuba of the finest quality you cannot have a firm base to make such judgements. In 1970, in company with John Harding, I met Mr. Sasano for the first time who showed us examples of fine quality iron plate tsuba from his large collection. One does not forget such pieces and John and I were to learn a great deal on the tatami at the house of Sasano sensei. I should say, and I am sure John would agree, that Mr. Sasano was perhaps the greatest expert on iron plate tsuba born in this century. His recent death has been a great loss to us all, and to the world of the study of sword fittings. In fact, the last three years have been cruel to us in many ways, and not the least has been the death of such friends and great figures as Dr. Homma, Billy Winkworth, Takeshi Wakayama, Bill Tilley, as well as Mr. Sasano. Their knowledge and their books in many areas gave us information that added to our knowledge and understanding of the art of the Japanese sword.

I will now give some additional notes and opinions concerning various lots in the three sales of the Compton collection.

Sale Number I:
Lots 2, 3 and 4 are good examples relating to the paper on the "Kamakura-bori" tsuba by Graham Gemmelli. Lot 2 must be what many of the tsuba looked like that were exported to China. Lot 3 would not be an export piece, and was probably made to order for someone who was allowed to wear the kiri mon. Lot 4 was made for someone of high rank, not for export, and is as fine as one could hope to find in this style of tsuba.
Lot 7 at least has imagination in design though the inlay is very stiff. Lot 9 is interesting; it was bought-in at $750 and later sold in Sale III, lot 63, for $1,000. It is a very fine piece and shows the origin of the Shoami school in the Muromachi period, probably as early as 1450 even with the brass and silver inlay. One cannot see its quality in the photograph.
Lots 32 and 35 were classic kenjo (another name we will have to do something about) examples. In the June 19th sale2, (lot 46) was one of the largest and finest examples of this style to be seen in many years. Yet it went unsold, bought-in at $1,700. This is what I meant by missing the boat on this sale. Lots 41 and 42 are examples of what I meant when I said familiarity breeds a high price, not quality. Lot 42 is a far superior tsuba and Joly recognized this, yet one can see that quality here could be bought for a fourth of the price of lot 41.
Lot 49 is all right but we shall have to rethink the whole Akasaka school (in a paper to be written at a later date). There is no point in going into the section on Higo tsuba for the study of the work of Higo is such a can of worms that it would take a book, not just a paper, on the subject.
Lot 96, to give my own personal feeling about this tsuba; I think that this quality of soft metal is as close as you can get to the great iron tsuba. I must say I am very partial to Akita and Shonai tsuba. More on this at a later date, as well. Lot 134. I think it has been printed before that this is my favorite piece in the entire Compton sale, and that is the case! The beauty of this kogai can only be appreciated with it in your hand. It is also one of the rare times that the price of the piece was commensurate with its quality. One cannot match the grace and power of the great soft metal fittings of the Muromachi period. To this day I remember a single gold menuki in the collection of Dr. Torigoye. He attributed it to Goto Yujo. It is published in his book "Toso Soran," 1978, page 117, top of page. The illustration shows a pair of menuki, but there is only one. He has shown the same menuki twice to create a pair. Anyway, this menuki shows all the power and strength one should find in the finest works made in the Muromachi period. The photograph does not even begin to do it justice! The kogai, by Joshin, just mentioned has this same power and beauty.

Now, to move on to Sale Number II:
Lot 1 is most interesting. Sasano and others said that this style of shape and surface treatment was very early. The problem is that the hitsu-ana is original, no doubt about it! So, was it for a kogai, or that kozuka that did not exist in the Muromachi period, according to the experts of the past?
Lot 13 I first saw about 30 years ago when Mr. Seo sent it to me on approval. I liked it very much then and I still do. I wish we had some idea of who this artist might have been.
Take note of the "Kamakura-bori," numbers 16 to 19 and the "Onin" tsuba numbers 20 to 22, and 24 and 25. All of these pieces are what the Kamakura-Onin brouhaha has been all about, but I want you to sort them out.
Lot 35 is another example of very fine iron plate that also shows imagination in shape and design. Not a first class tsuba, but one that was overlooked by many. Lot 37. I should like opinions concerning this piece. It was very well thought of by several bidders from Japan and has gone back, but what do the collectors over here think of it? Again, in lot 120, that quality of soft metal plate that is the near equal to the iron plates of the Muromachi period.

Sale Number III:
Not much of note but lots 1) 2) and 3 are more of those "Kamakura" tsuba and lots 7, 8, and 9 are more of the "Onin" style pieces. How do each of these fit into the various papers on the subject?

Sale of June 19, 1993:
Lot 26, though I said Saotome, Shoami would be just as good an attribution; in fact it does not matter for the quality of the iron and its strength are exceptional.
Lot 57 was my own favorite piece in this sale. Even though I called this piece Owari I do not believe it! I think this is one of those fine unknown works by a great artist of no particular school. And again one could not appreciate it unless you held it in your hand.
Lot 147, though late, is a very fine piece far above the average Goto of the period. In fact, it can compare with the best early Goto of the Momoyama period. Lot 181 is as fine as Shoami work gets in the Momoyama period. By the way, many Muromachi and Momoyama period iron plates were decorated with gold and silver nunome, but this decoration has, for the most part, been lost with time. Sometimes you can still see the cross-hatch marks on the plates. Look for them and you can even make out the designs if the surface is not too rusted and the light is right.

Well, I suppose the above is not a great deal to say for three years work but, as you can see, I have sidestepped the "KINKO" as I leave them to those who prefer them. I hope all of this can start a constructive debate that will enhance the knowledge of us all. We are only ending the first hundred years of this study of Japanese sword fittings and I have participated in almost half of it so far, since my interest in the subject began in 1947. I might add that after the first forty years of study I realized that I would have to start all over again and learn something for myself that hopefully, is above and beyond the information I had accumulated. So, please, help me with this new study I have lurched into in my last forty years.

1)Graham Gemmell, "Onin and Kamakura Tsuba - Two Schools or One," To-Ken Society of Great Britain, Programme No. 158, (January, 1993), pp. 5-9.
2)Christie's, Japanese Works of Art, New York, (June 19, 1993)


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