Former prices of noted swords

Whilst looking for a certain article, I found an interesting list in the October 1992 issue of the Tôken-Bijutsu. Uemori Taijô (上森岱乗) gathered data from sword auctions from 1925 to 1939. This was namely a time when large former daimyô collections had to be sold by their descendants to put cash back in the till. Uemori focused on those blades which are today designated as kokuhô, jûyô-bunkazai or jûyô-bijutsuhin and arrived at a number of 69 pieces. With Mr. Uemori´s data as a basis, I converted the then highest bids for what the blades were sold to the current amount using the Consumer Price unit provided by Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a Japanese Yen Amount, 1879 – Present,” MeasuringWorth, 2013. The list begins with the year of the auction, the name of the smith, the length, a comment if sold with shirasaya (s) or koshirae (k), the seller, the then price, the calculated present amount, and finally the approximate amount in Euro.

 FormerSwordPrices (PDF)

Well, we don´t know anything about the condition of the blades, the number of bidders or other circumstances at the auction which could have effected the end price. But the list contains nevertheless a lot of interesting information. First of all, the Akimoto family (秋元), then of viscount rank (shishaku, 子爵), must really had been in the need for money as their swords were sold for a ridiculously low amount. Imagine to get now a signed Rai Kunimitsu (来国光) tantô for 6.000 € which is of such a quality that it gets jûyô-bunkazai. Or an Awataguchi Kuniyoshi (粟田口国吉) tantô for 8.500 € which gets jûyô-bijusuhin. Also the swords sold by the Kishû-Tokugawa family were relative cheap. The kokuhô Hyûga-Masamune (日向正宗) tantô was sold for around 23.000 €. Incredible. The Hoshô Sadatsugu (保昌貞継) tachi left the Kishû-Tokugawa family for about 6.100 €. This low price can be explained by the fact that it had an unknown provenance. After the auction it turned out to be an authentic work from the early Kamakura period and was right away designated as kokuhô! Nezu Kaichirô (根津嘉一郎, 1860-1940), the founder of the Nezu Museum, made good money with his Ichimonji Sukekane (一文字助包). He bought it at an auction in 1919 from the collection of the Inaba-Ikeda family (池田) for 11.000 Yen and sold it 15 years later for almost three times as much. And the Itô family (伊東) made a fortune of a bargain they bought from the Akimoto. It was the Bizen Mitsumori (光守) wakizashi with orikaeshi-mei. In 1931, the price was only 255 Yen (today 374.000 Yen or 2.900 €). The Itô family submitted it later for jûyô-bijutsuhin, it passed, and the price increased twelvefold to 3.500 Yen (today 4.590.000 Yen or 35.300 €). And last but not least, the high price of the Kanehira (包平, see picture 1) is explained by its provenance. It came from the former possessions of the Takeda family (武田) and was once, according to transmission, worn by Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (源義光, 1045-1127).


 Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei „Kanehira“ (包平), nagasa 75,1 cm


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