Helpful friends

If you collect things, at some point you will indeed make friends through your hobby. Some of these will be good friends, some will only be linked to you by your common interest, and some others… no comment.

Your friends are your first source of second opinions, because if you choose carefully, at the very least you can get honesty from them. But you need to be careful as to what you do with their advice.

A long time ago I bought a sword with no papers. This was a beautiful wakizashi with sanbonsugi hamon and signature of Nosada. This is the famous second generation Kanesada, who is top ranked both for skill and sharpness and is one of the representative pillars of the Mino tradition. 

When I got the blade, and showed my friends, I received 100% negative comments. Everyone said the signature was fake. They all said that sanbonsugi was a trait of Kanemoto and they were right in that. But they all used it as a reason to say that my blade must be fake. 

This of course depressed me and made me nervous that I had just bought true junk, however I decided I would follow it through on principle. I sent it to Japan and Kenji Mishina polished the blade, it was submitted to the NBTHK and passed Tokubetsu Hozon without any question or reservation and Tanobe sensei put a sayagaki on it with no hesitation at all. All of this meant that the blade was clearly sufficient quality for Nosada and where my friends got confused was that this was a rare example of his work. Nosada and Kanemoto are documented as having an adopted brotherhood relationship. 

Nosada also did like to flex his muscles, he copied the Yamashiro Rai school from time to time, showing he was one of the rare Mino tradition smiths that could extend his repertoire to areas far outside his traditional teaching. It is not a huge leap then to consider that he may have also copied his best friend’s style from time to time, if he could go back and copy a 300 year old blade in a completely different work style. Another possibility for this is that it was jointly made work between the smiths so bore hallmarks of both of their techniques. 

Regardless, it stands as a rare and important example of his work in this style. It is something that could have been destroyed if I would have listened to my friends advice and removed the signature.

For me, a lesson was learned that day about other people’s opinions. If you seek them out, you need to make sure your stomach is made of steel because you may hear things that you do not want to hear. Your instincts may be right, however you may be inside a storm of disapproval. Or, your instincts may be wrong and people are trying to put you on the right path. 

What can go wrong

An important thing to avoid at this point is the emotional overreaction. This is where all of the damage is done. Both to you, and to posterity. 

This sword below was owned by a Japanese collector in the 1950s who sought out a helpful friend who gave him the advice that his sword had a fake signature. 

So he grabbed a hacksaw.

Look ye upon one man’s monument to stupidity. 

After he hacked the signature off, someone told him that the previous helpful advice he received was incorrect.

So, the blade which is a rare signed masterpiece by Enju Kunimura, passed Juyo Token in two parts as can be seen on the left. It is only blade to have ever passed Juyo Token that was not in one piece and should stand forever as a warning to those who will take action without properly investigating the situation. 

In later years the signature was restored to the sword by a process called gakumei in which the old signature is inset. You can see this on the right. This is normally done in the Edo period when someone shortened a sword. Not because some guy with a hacksaw emotionally overreacted to some information that he wasn’t prepared to handle. 

That the sword even went on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo showed how incredibly bad this advice was in the first place. 

However, that someone would be looking at one of the top thousand blades in the world and tell the owner this is junk was probably done for a reason.

My own guess is that the person who told him the signature was no good was trying to destabilize the owner with the hope of convincing him to sell the sword.

The owner running out and buying a hacksaw was probably a shocking result.


This concept of destabilizing is a pitch that works like this:

Hey there my friend, I am so sorry that you got ripped off on this terrible item. Problem X that this sword has is really tragic. I however have another friend who likes this kind of thing and does not care about Problem X. If I talk to him, I think he will be sure to help you out of your jam! He will likely be glad to pay you 100 dollars for this unsavory item of yours and you will be free from your mistake. — Helpful friend

Well, now you have both been presented with the dreaded Problem X and put under stress because of it. At the same time, you are being offered an escape route from this helpful friend who is going to solve this same Problem X that he has indicated that you have.

Did you ever trade comic books as a kid? 

Hey there my friend, I’m so sorry that your Superman #1 has a folded corner, this devalues it considerably. I have a friend who does not care about folded corners and will bail you out of this problem for a few hundred dollars.

Baseball cards?

Hey there my friend, I’m so sorry that your Honus Wagner rookie card has a stain on the back. This devalues it considerably. I however have a friend who does not care about such stains and will give you a thousand dollars for this card.

It sounds ridiculous when phrased like this but people fall into this with swords, because people are generally trusting and they are lazy and will not seek additional opinions or advance their own knowledge levels (that requires work). What they want is to deposit themselves into the hands of an expert who will vomit predigested chunks of knowledge into their open mouth. I phrase it like this on purpose so make sure that you get the point that this is not the way you want to go in life. 

Hey there my friend, I’m so sorry that your sword has this flaw, I however have a friend who does not care about flaws and will bail you out of your problem.

Now, the thing to bear in mind is that sometimes that is true. If you bring me a false signature I will tell you, I’m sorry that’s a false signature. I probably won’t offer to buy it from you though in this case. The trick to these scams is always that it’s a two parter.

First comes the kick to the groin of what you own, this destabilizes you and stops you from thinking clearly. It puts you into panic mode.

Second comes the offer of redemption. The clouds part, the angels sing, your rescue is at hand from the same person who just told you that you made a horrible mistake. They will absorb your mistake and fix your problem.

It’s the second part that needs to set the alarm bells off, not the first part.

In the case of someone sending me a sword with a fake signature, my answer will be something like this: I think your signature is no good, but I think this blade is maybe an older blade that has reasons to be examined further. I want to get a look at it, and if I think the blade is good, I will make you an offer on it. Or, if you want to keep it, I can walk you through the process of getting it restored. We can remove that fake signature, we can get it polished and papered, and once this is done, I can consign the blade for you. 

In the first case, I am going to buy the blade, take on the cost of restoration, take the risk that it doesn’t come out well and hope for a valuation increase when everything is done. In the second case, the current owner has the option of doing all that, paying the money, taking the risk, and getting the reward. 

This is similar to a shotgun agreement where two parties make an agreement by having one party draft the agreement but leaves blanks in place for the names. The second party then writes in the names for who gets what.

An example would be if we both own a house together, and we want to get out of this joint agreement, we make a shotgun agreement of: _______ will sell his ownership in the house to _______ for $50,000. In this case, the person deciding the valuation has to make sure it’s a valuation he can accept as a buyer or a seller. Because the second party is going to take the side that he thinks is more advantageous. Thus, the agreement tends to balance itself.

There is no balance in telling something that their item is junk and then your friend will help them out for a low low price of $5,000. This is just kicking someone and then seeing if they will take the bait. 

I have seen it happen many times, and it is a reason to be careful about flashing around any new acquisitions you make. You need to be prepared both for people who will tell you like above, that your Nosada is gimei because they honestly do not know better. You asked them their opinion so they are going to tell you within the limits of their knowledge. And, you need to be prepared for that guy who knows your thing is good and thinks he can destabilize you so he can catch it when it falls out of your shaky, shaky, nervous, approval-seeking hands. 

When you drop it, and he catches it, he will sell it for a profit and you will thank him for his “help.”

It’s happened to me, it’s happened to my clients, it’s happened to my friends, it happens every single day.

Due diligence

Due diligence is the set of actions you undertake to investigate and fully explore all potential problems, issues, and upsides to a particular situation before you take an irreversable action (like buying, selling or removing a false signature).

Due diligence is your problem. If you fail to undertake due diligence, you are the one to blame for what happens to you.

If you seek out an opinion, you need to seek out many opinions from unbiased sources if possible. As I wrote before if you ask a Ford dealer what he thinks of your new Mercedes, he’s going to give you a list of all the problems with Mercedes and if you sell that Mercedes he’s going to give you a sweet deal on a brand new Ford. Right? Right.

So if you’re going to ask people, ask as many as you can. 

Filter their opinions.

Always remember: people will answer well above their punching weight, both because they don’t know any better and because they are trying to help you. Or, as above, they may answer incorrectly on purpose in order to destabilize you. And in other cases, they will be giving you 100% textbook answers.

You ultimately are the decider. You are the judge and jury. You are the President of the YOU. All of these people are a spectrum of advisors, working from different agendas, different knowledge bases, different skill levels and they will offer you up a wide range of sometimes contradictory information.

You use your common sense to sort that out. You look at what advantage they may or may not be getting from the answer they give you. You take every bit of information as that is interesting, I will take it under advisement

The ultimate piece of advice is a paper from one of the top Japanese organizations. If you have received all positive feedback, get a paper. If you receive mixed feedback, get a paper. If you have received all negative feedback, you are probably S.O.L. 

Even if you fail with the paper, think long and hard before you take any next steps. 

But if you just go to one guy, who has an agenda, ask his opinion, get destabilized, and then react emotionally…

… you will get what’s coming to you.