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So, so many fake Japanese swords

A quick ebay search for “gendaito” results in dozens of purported Japanese katanas for sale.

Hand-made “art sword” gendaitos were very few in number to begin with, maybe a few thousand by 1944, and after 1945, when Japanese swords of all qualities were being melted down, there were a lot fewer left.

When I began collecting antique Japanese swords in 1993, it was a pretty structured environment with plenty of Vet bring-backs available through newspaper ads and at gun shows. But most of those swords were basic Showa shin-Shinto machine made swords of solid stock. Created en masse for Japanese NCOs, they were the great bulk of “samurai” type swords captured and brought back to England and America after WWII. Though justifiably iconic in their own right, as they are beautiful weapons by design, none of them were art swords. None were made by hand in 1562 by a famous swordsmith.

Enter China. And with her came all kinds of fakery of every kind of antique collectible you could ever want. Guns, swords, knives, bayonets, not to mention shoes, purses, clothes etc. The first faked Japanese swords from China were easy to spot. Some were laughably crude, some were pretty good but either missing or overplaying critical aspects of real antique Japanese swords. Either way, only the most gullible or inexperienced buyers took them.

Today, however, you can find practically mint condition gendaito or older swords, with a nice new reddish rust on the tang, selling for half or a third of what such swords used to bring. Lots of them. Most of these fake blades are in authentic WWII military fittings, giving them a false air of authenticity.

The reason for the price drop is that so many fake Japanese swords have been brought to market that the natural demand and market absorption is oversaturated. Thus, supply exceeds demand, and price drops accordingly. Greedy dealers looking to enrich themselves at the expense of  would-be collectors have driven this dynamic.

Oh, there is a demand out there for real Japanese swords. People from all walks of life recognize how perfect these edged weapons are, and how refined and representative they are of the warrior ethos. Japanese swords are iconic, and therefore inspiring. They bring a lot of happiness to their owners, if only to serve as reminders of the old ways, like when men were men.

But sword dealers have now definitely overplayed their hand. The evidence of this fakery is overwhelming.

There is not only no possible way that one dealer can have so many authentic Japanese swords for sale at any one time, and there are dozens of dealers each stocked to the gills with fake swords being represented as authentic antiques, there is no possible way that this many authentic antique Japanese swords were ever available at one time in any one market, except maybe on the entire island of Japan in 1944.

After 1944 and Japan’s fall, swords were outlawed by the Allies, and they were destroyed by the thousands. Just like fabulous rifles in Germany and Austria were destroyed by the Allies. Though highly lamentable, it was all done to protect our troops. Very few Japanese swords or German rifles made it out alive, so to speak.

If I were to describe the ways these fake swords leap off the virtual pages of ebay and other sellers and scream “I am a fake,” I’d write a book. However, I’m just disgusted by it all, and writing a book is not in my future. However, here are some things to look out for: 1) tangs that have reddish rust. A true old worn rust is tough to fake. 2) file marks on tangs running the wrong way. 3) Tang inscriptions that are either perfect or that are cut over the defined edges. 4) Blades that are perfect, or that have a perfect yakiba or perfect hamon. This is the biggest red flag of all. Most Vet bring-backs were abused by the soldiers themselves, through horseplay. The swords were then used by kids in the 1950s for horseplay and cutting experiments. These swords were not then that valuable or collectible, so they were rarely protected from use or abuse. They were simply the artifacts and relics of brutal, cruel, sad warfare that their captors wished to forget. So to see so many shiny, smooth, perfect blades represented as antiques is a huge red flag. Very very few actual antique Japanese swords made it to 2017 unscathed, either through actual battle use or more likely, through abuse in American backyards at the hands of playful boys or demonstrative uncles in the 1950s-1970s. To see such incredibly distinct hamons on so many “antique” Japanese swords is a huge red flag. A real antique blade will naturally lose its luster over time, and the hardened cutting edge will follow that process, to the point where it becomes faint and barely distinct. Most blades will show clear splotches, discoloration, some rust, from having sat in a basement or living room for 70 years.

Guys, it’s tough to say this, but a lot of you are buying fake Japanese swords that are in reality made recently in China for the American collector market. It’s cliche, but caveat emptor. Ask yourself and your seller some really basic questions. The most important question to a seller being: How on earth do you keep finding these very rare swords, in such high quantities, in such incredibly good condition, to sell at such low prices?

You know the answer, or at least you should know it. The sad answer is the sad fact that it appears about 90% to 95% of the purported antique Japanese swords being sold today are fakes, most likely of recent Chinese origin (Pakistanis are getting better at making old looking edged weapons, too).

Do your research. Think hard about how each sword now for sale made its way to market. You’ll come to the natural and healthy conclusion. And you’ll run away, and save your money for real antiques.

First World Problem: Antique Arms Collectors Now Face Mostly Fakes

This headline is probably ho-hum to most people, at best.

To others, it is a “here we go again, another whine-fest by history buffs who spend their money badly on old rusty junk.”

But if you are indeed a history buff with a penchant for old weapons, both edged and those that go BOOM, you may be interested in this post.

My opinion is that most antique weapons collectors are facing an overwhelming amount of fakes.

Much more so with Japanese swords, so let’s discuss them first.

Used to be that finding a Gendaito blade was unusual; maybe one or two a year. Now, you go on eBay and find the same several sellers conveying dozens of them annually. Wakizashis, katanas, even various sized dirks and tantos etc.

These must all be fakes, as there simply were not this many Gendaito blades in existence before Chinese smiths began to create them in about 2011.  Having watched these counterfeits move at an ever brisker pace, I simply feel sad. At some point the uninformed collectors will discover their money has been taken for what is a very good reproduction that is probably worth a thousand bucks, simply because it is that good of a copy. But it ain’t real.

Smith-made (hand made art blades) Shinto blades also fall into this counterfeiting scam by the hundreds annually. Again, there simply were not as many of these blades surviving WWII as there are now for sale on eBay.

With guns, it is harder to fake than a sword, because a gun is obviously a gun. A Winchester 1873 is a Winchester 1873, and its condition usually dictates its value.

What makes some gun values go crazy high are rare or historic marks (the ubiquitous spurious stage coach markings on rabbit eared double shotguns being the best example), which can be easily faked by anyone with good control of a metal punch. This is true fakery and it is an area most collectors know about and do more diligence about.

But let’s talk about the area where it is harder to see what has happened, and harder to call it fakery, though it is: The collectible antique sporting rifles.

Demand is high for antique sporting rifles, because their modern day equivalents cost about $35,000 to start and easily get to $100,000 and much, much higher. So in that context, it “makes sense” to pay $5,000 to $20,000 for an antique sporting firearm that functions as it should, rather than several times that amount for a brand new one that goes BOOM just like or nearly like the old one.

Antique sporting rifles are getting lots and lots of makeovers, both in England and here in America. They are marketed at auction and on websites as having been “period upgraded” or “period refurbished” (say from the 1870s to 1930s), when in fact they were very recently “tarted up” by a gunsmith to heighten their attractiveness to unknowing, unquestioning collectors.

I recently purchased – and immediately returned – such a rifle.

Oh it was a rare dandy, and looking past the hyperbole on the well-known seller’s website, which included an obviously fraudulent claim of “original condition,” there was still a fine gun that could take an American bison or a grizzly. If it worked the simple way a rifle should work, it was the gun of a lifetime. In a rare, hard-hitting caliber that I wanted.

So, I busted a move on it.

After joking on the phone with the salesman about the obviously fake claims of original condition, the seller and I eventually reached agreement on price, and the gun arrived in a couple days. Right out of its original 1895 leather and brass case with the original owner’s name and military rank on it (God, what a case!), the red flags were popping up: Improperly refinished wood had pulled the stock away from the receiver, leaving the stock to accept the heavy recoil on only one side.This meant the stock would crack soon after use.

A punch mark on the barrel lump was testimony to the cheap and meaningless effort to temporarily tighten the otherwise loose action. The list of el cheapo work went on. Yes, the bores were immaculate, but the fact is that this gun had been recently “tarted up” for re-sale, and it had been worn down quite a bit recently. Worn down more by the nature of its heavy caliber than by any misuse by previous owners.

Had the seller simply disclosed these facts, I might have made a more informed decision, and he would have received less money. We would have had full disclosure and an honest exchange. But within 48 hours of receiving it, I drove the gun all the way back to the sales room, three hours away, where the sales manager and the business owner tried to talk me out of the return. The refund check arrived ten days later, with none of the additional costs I incurred like shipping, transfer, gunsmith evaluation etc. They knew full well what had been done to that gun, and they simply got caught, and they punished me by withholding cash they should have covered.

This is one of the big names in high end gun sales.

Today I am looking at another uncommon rifle on a well known auction site. The gun has clearly been recently overhauled for re-sale. The wood finish is as bright and shiny as the new wood floor in a brand new home. The metal finishes look like they were done weeks ago, and not the 117 years ago that is the actual age of the gun. Yet it is marketed as having a “period” refurbish. Rubbish! Nonsense! Buyer be super aware!

This is not total fakery, as no fake numbers or markings have been punched into the metal or wood. Custer did not purportedly grasp this gun as he fell at the Little Big Horn.

Instead, until a few months ago, this gun’s metal parts were probably a mix of silvered and plum finishes, the welcome, honest patinas of hundreds of days afield in India or Africa, or the Scottish Highlands, chasing big game in the hands of a British, Indian, or Scottish Man of Importance. Until months ago, the wood probably looked like hell, was beat to hell, dented, dinged, and scratched, each a story in itself. Not any more! Now it looks so fake and shiny it about blinds the eye.

Shame, too, because under the fakery is a really cool gun.

Apparently the sellers believe that hiring “gunsmiths” to do quick and dirty upgrades to these collectible old sporting arms is more important than selling the actual honest gun, with its actual original wear and condition.

This means the sellers have gullible buyers who ascribe too much weight to new and fresh appearance, when the opposite is true: An original condition gun that has not been butchered or fooled with by a modern day “gunsmith” is actually more valuable.

The key to fending off the faking is educating new gun collectors and buyers to understand this fact: Fresh, new looking antique guns have been shined up to turn them into shiny objects. Don’t be a foolish fish and bite on them, unless you recognize a) what they are, and b) there are probably problems covered up by the new “improvements” that would have been addressed 100 years ago, but are now papered over, and thus, you are not getting what you paid for.

And as for the Japanese swords out there on eBay, man, what can be said? Be super wary. Ask yourself simple questions about production numbers, survivor numbers, and then answer your own question: How on earth is this one seller repeatedly finding so many of these should-be rare swords? Is every American veteran selling his prized Japanese sword to just these few dealers?

You know the answers to these questions. Run away, and hold on to your money.

In closing, buyer beware. Because there are gullible collectors willing to part with their money, there are unscrupulous sellers willing to sell them things that simply cannot be true. It behooves the smart man to ask the simple questions before biting.

Good luck and be patient!

The old Samurai sword still speaks, quietly

An old Japanese Samurai sword presently sitting up on the mantle may be just an old hunk of metal in a damaged wooden scabbard, and to the vast majority of people, a sword is a sword is a sword, so it means nothing other than it is a one-dimensional artifact of another time and place.

What’s the big deal about one or another artifact or old sword, right?

What sets old Japanese swords apart from every other sword ever made by humankind is literally everything about them, every aspect and detail of a sword, from tip to pommel.

Without going into detail here, suffice it to say that if, for example, a huge Viking sword was successfully made to mindlessly, crazily smash, bash, break, cut, gouge, gore, and rip a human body in a fit of power madness, a relatively slender Japanese sword will certainly do all that, if it must, but it can also serve as a surgical scalpel slicing fatally deep with minimal sense of anything awry, at first.

Artistic forms of death inspire artists and fascinate onlookers still, so is it any wonder that old Japanese swords symbolically speak still to men around the world, including me. A hushed, quiet, almost slithering whisper is its language. You cannot really hear it, but to look upon such a weapon, with full understanding, is to recognize its potential danger, even if it appears inert, steady, a mere object in need of a strong arm and shoulder to wield it.

Such is the role of any powerful symbol, and the more subtle they are, the more powerful they are.

As a new window begins to open in some political theater, Kabuki?, this sword sits front and center before me, speaking its quiet, ancient language, inspiring on to battle those who revere quality above apparent size.  The theater may be absurd at time, it may have incredibly comical villains and real heartbreak, but nevertheless, the sword remains. Whatever it must do, it will do, so long as the will remains to direct it.

And buddy, there is a deep well of will.


Japanese swords — caveat emptor

Taking breathers from political screeds may be rare here, but this is an oddball necessity. One cannot see bloodthirsty fakery and sit silently.

To wit: A lot of guys collect old militaria. Swords, bayonets, guns, helmets, etc. Cool stuff. Inspiring. Evocative of sacrifice and bravery.

Most of this rusty old junk is tough to fake, and even more to the point, pointless to fake, as the rip-off scheme costs more than the item is worth.

Except in the world of old Japanese swords.

The iconic katana and wakizashi have been sought after for decades as both extremely appealing for a red-blooded man to look at, and as artwork; refined craftsmanship that’ll easily cut off an arm. What normal guy wouldn’t be attracted to such art?!

For the past ten years or a bit more, a certain well known, popular, big auction site on the internet has been filled with many obviously faked Japanese swords and daggers. There were and still are some for sale in the past week and presently, hawked as “gendaito” in shingunto mounts. These would be valuable hand-made art blades holstered in relatively rudimentary war-time (WWII) scabbards that saw service in the field. If they were actually old and authentic.

But these are not authentic, historic blades. They were made recently and are being sold as old.

So sad to see such obviously faked signatures, and faked blades, set into authentic WWII mounts and carriers, with blazingly brand-new shirasaya! It’s an obviously winning combination, as buyers pay thousands of dollars for something worth a few hundred at most.

C’mon guys. Use your heads. Do your research. How many gendaito blades really made it out, after WWII? So many that individual sellers seem to constantly, endlessly pull them out like white rabbits from black hats?

Alarm bells not going off?

If your hearts weren’t telling you Yes, your eyes would be telling you “FAKE!”

Run. Run away fast from these too-good-to-be-true bargains with new handles, purposeful minor scuffs, and signatures so clearly punched in by a modern Chinaman, not a Nipon-To maker sitting cross legged eighty years ago.

If nothing else, demand NHTK papers with each sword. Or consider your investment wasted. Sorry to say.

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