© Copyright Robert Cole 2014 - No copying or distributing
Inscriptions - or Sword Signatures
One hears a great deal about faked signatures. GI-MEI.
An old quote: "If you have 10 KOTETSUs, 11 will be fake."
Herein lies a subtlety of market, hundreds of years old. While there were many fakes, it is a fact that one who possesses swords and not knowledge falls easy prey to an old trick, the aspersion of fakery. Devaluation at the indifference of an "expert." New collectors should THINK before selling.
An old game is watching a good piece passed from one unaware person to the next, knowing that soon it will come to the hand of the watcher.
"TOKUGAWA had patience" -deft chide.
The savvy logic of a horse-trader may allow some in a local market community to leave people, who might actually know very little about swords, inclined to passing articles around. This way, articles come around.
While this might strike one as being more than a bit devious, some dealers reason that the finer works of art should pass time in the care of people truly capable of providing for them. The fact is these pieces are at risk in the hands of the ignorant.
This attitude finds varying degrees of expression throughout the sword world. At some point stewardship becomes a matter of responsible propriety. Simply put, those who pursue knowledge with an equal vigor as that put for swords, will find their path in the sword world, a world of scholars as well as thieves, non- problematic.
Also, for as many reasons as there are people, swords seem to engender passion. They are a thing of mystery. A barrier of the mysterious must be crossed when uncovering truth, the job at appraisal. - One needs to keep balance for clear vision.
So again an old quote from many languages and many markets, "LET THE BUYER BEWARE," brings us to the importance of the validity of signatures.
The key to origin is in the work. The sword itself will ALWAYS RESOLVE QUESTIONS arising from inscriptions. The problem of faked signatures is mostly one of maligned NAKAGO, not forgery.
A forged signature, GI-MEI, is defacement.
A genuine signature, SHO-SHIN, is enhancement.
MORE FACTS: Sword dealers have always had direct or nearly direct access to sword inscribers, some with exceeding talents. Many MU-MEI (no signature) swords have been given forged signatures. The signature of a lesser smith can be changed, a bad fake can be improved. Condition, shape, and rusting of NAKAGO can be altered. Sometimes quite convincingly.
Sword inscribers have been called upon by authoritative institutions, at times, to repair forgeries or to inscribe what is believed to be the correct face of the NAKAGO.
There were MU-MEI swords that were signed at some later time from manufacture known as ATO-MEI "later-signed". These were signed by the smith, a member of his school or by an inscriber. Many of these will differ in an obvious way from recorded examples. Note is taken at appraisal and all such pieces were always to be considered genuine. - However, please note that with the growth of the world sword market, expediency has forced Japanese appraisal authorities to adopt a general policy of refusing ATO-MEI.
Some genuine signatures were done entirely by another. The famous example being OEI BIZEN, where one sword signer inscribed for several smiths. Signing required either literacy or the "good hand" of a calligrapher and in early times these may not have been part of a smith's learning.
A studied and experienced appraiser develops a keen understanding of signatures and NAKAGO and often can tell a genuine piece without reference.
Access to reference material with clear tang pictures or OSHIGATA (sword rubbings) of genuine NAKAGO is all important when the fine points of a signature are in question. Note: For this reason the reference works in common use have been cross-indexed in the LIST OF SWORDSMITHS pg ###.