Kiyomaro, modern papers and 100% guarantee

Posted on 23rd October 2018

At each assembly of American collectors there is always plenty of private talks about supposed issues with this or that kind of papers and various conspiracies involving NBTHK, yakuza or “major Japanese dealers”. It usually boils down to that there are bad papers (green, early Hozon, late TH, NTHK-NPO etc. etc.) and why would they not just force them all to repaper to “good ones”.

Similar stories one hears in Japan – that NBTHK shinsas held in the US involved crack cocaine and ladies served in the shinsa room, while under the table there were piles of cash provided by Compton, and the hotel was surrounded by Americans with automatic rifles. The shinsa members even tried to commit hara-kiri to preserve their honor, but the blades submitted were so bad none could even cut, so they ended up issuing the worst papers known in history (yes, don’t you ever buy anything with American NBTHK papers).

For those who believe that such sins can be rectified by “modern papers”, let me relate a story. A while ago I saw Kiyomaro offered for sale at a surprisingly agreeable price, with Tokubetsu Hozon papers, as well as oshigata and photograph from a major publication showing this very piece – it was not just any Kiyomaro, but one of his wilder and more attractive blades. The time passed, but the item kept sitting unsold. Slightly puzzled I asked a gentlemen from a sword club for an explanation – “oh, that’s a known fake” he said “the papers are real though”.

How come? Well, long ago when times where tough for swordsmiths of even the highest caliber a gentleman commissioned a copy of celebrated Kiyomaro piece – to be made as mumei. Then a signature exactly matching the original was put it, the tang was patinated (not a major difficulty), while the original was submitted for papers. Which it obviously obtained, and those then went to a copy blade – while the papers were declared as lost to NBTHK and reissued. As the story goes, the operation was repeated a few times.

If you were to see the real Kiyomaro and the copy next to each other, the difference would be obvious. It was however completely lost in either oshigata or photographs and the nakago was absolutely identical to the one photographed in the paper.

Among higher end collectors one sometimes hear similar stories about “papered” early mainline Goto menuki, but most of the times the matters concern specifically Suishinshi Masahide, Naotane and Kiyomaro blades. Frankly, there were plenty of gendai smiths who were arguably better than average Naotane, and could easily stand their own against lesser Kiyomaro and Masahide. The forging done by gendai smiths is generally similar to shinshinto, so for them faking an early Soshu blade would be extraordinary difficult, but not the later works.

This method is obviously fool proof against any kind of papers, modern or old, NBTHK or NTHK. In Japan there is some defense against such abuse since people in high end shinshinto market might simply recognize a particular copy after it was around for decade or two. When such pieces make it to North American dealers it gets much harder to detect them.

But those who have some experience with other collecting communities should not be surprised. If one desires to buy Leonardo DaVinci’s painting, against the fact that those were always few in number and extremely thought after from the very beginning – yet  unlike the museum ones none on the market today has an unquestionable provenance, then one has to accept a lot of uncertainty that no expert paper can ever dispel. Same goes for collectors of Hitler’s pistols, or some of the royal 19th century military decorations (those being completely custom made), or some WWII ritterkrauze, which were supposedly still manufactured on the same industrial equipment after the WWII for GI broughtbacks.

These are collectibles that come with intrinsic uncertainty. If you have 100K to pay for a good papered Kiyomaro, you are probably a big boy and should just accept it. No reforms, papers, opinions or dealers with 60 years of experience can completely dispel that.

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