IN CONTRAST to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, who usually offer Japanese arms and armour in Japanese works of art sales, Bonhams (19.5/10% buyers premium) include theirs as a section in militaria auctions.
Their December 2 auction opened with 55 Japanese lots, mostly edged weapons including a number of katana (the longer of the two swords most traditionally worn by Samurai). By Western standards several of these were of some age, being from the Koto ('old sword' pre-17th century) period of sword-making before much of the traditional art was lost in the Shinto (new sword) period.
Bonhams illustrated these swords with mounts in their scabbards, as reproduced here. Of great significance to Japanese sword collectors, however, and one of the more important identification and quality indicators, is the hamon, the decorative shaped line of steel forming the edge of the blade, which comes in many different shapes each with its own name.
The hamon on the 2ft 4in (72cm) long blade of the sword seen right was notare-midare (irregular waves) while that on the 2ft 5in (73cm) long blade of the sword far right was gunome-midare (abruptly undulating). The unsigned upper example sold for £800 against an estimate of £900-1200, while the lower one failed to sell against an estimate of £1500-1800. Signed Kanesada, a sought after name, perhaps the failure was an indication that the signature was not right? This is unlikely, as Bonhams have a one-year forgery guarantee and their attributions are very good. It is just the state of the market.