by Robert Haynes

Lately a number of tsuba, and some small fittings, have appeared in the West that manifest what could best be called the trophy syndrome. Some of these have been sold privately, and others at public auctions. In most cases they brought very high prices and those sold privately went to persons outside of Japan, whereas those sold at auction, often went back to Japan. In either case the pieces themselves were often of dubious merit and quality. What is going on here? It would seem that these pieces are either being sold (in the West) or bought by dealers, or collectors (in Japan), without much knowledge on the part of the buyer. I shall not go into the individual pieces in question, as many of you know what items were sold at auction in the West, and you can see the items that circulate privately.

It would seem that most of those bought in the West are being sold from Japan for several reasons. One is that there are no buyers for them among Japanese collectors, or the dealer has had them in stock far too long. In some cases the condition, or authenticity might be in question. In any case they are not up to the standards of the leading collectors in Japan. In the other case the pieces that are being bought in the West are of two types. The first are genuine pieces that are sold back to collectors in Japan, but often at prices even higher than they might bring in Japan. The other type are pieces of dubious quality, or outright forgeries, that are bought at exorbitant prices, usually at auction, and then are sold to unsuspecting collectors in Japan. In either case it would seem we now have a true world wide market in Japanese sword fittings that mirrors the international art market in many other areas of the fine arts of other nations.

Naturally there is nothing wrong with this commerce, if the buyers are knowledgeable in what they find on the market to add to their collections. It should not be buyer-beware. Perhaps the beginning, or even some older collectors, might want to consult with a counsel with an unbiased opinion, who might help them in forming a true collection.


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