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As I became known as a local Japanese sword buyer, I entered into dangerous territory.
I have had several local southern California sword dealers "set me up" to buy their junk. After all, it's a dog eat dog world out there, and by getting me to exhaust my cash supply on their junk, I was rendered financially crippled... until I could raise another wad of cash.
I don't blame my sword buying competitors, I blame myself... for my foolish buying decisions.
I remember one event in particular about 10 years ago, when a woman called me with a sword she wanted to sell. I wondered where she got my name and number, as I had not advertised to buy Japanese swords at the time. This should have been a red flag... but I was too excited about the chance of getting a good sword to give it much thought. I got to her home later that the morning, and while I was examining the sword, I saw another Japanese sword buyer's card on the table. The woman explained that she had to sell the sword to raise needed money, and told me: "Mr. X offered me $3500. If you are willing to pay $4,000 cash, you can buy the sword right now". So, I took the bait, and laid out my hard earned cash. Later, I discovered that the sword was really owned by Mr. X, who had found a sucker (me) and was laughing all the way to the bank! I harbor no hard feelings, as it was my poorly made buy decision, based on a story, rather than sound buying principles and real knowledge, so it was my own fault.
I learned that in this world of sword dealing, that many people will do anything, and say anything, to sell a problem blade. I realized that if I was going to make wise purchase decisions, I had to build my own base of knowledge. I realized I had to utilize my own judgment, rather than base my buying decisions on guessing, gut instinct, or a good story.
I remember selling that sword for about $2000, as a gimei Hizen Masahiro. If you are Mr. X, you can see I've known this happened for many years, and I take respnsibility for my own bad decision, and harbor no ill feelings. I know I became "fair game" the moment I started competing with you in buying Japanese swords locally.
I also recall a more recent event, where I got a phone call from a local dealer of militaria. He told me that two brothers were closing their family home, and were selling their father's two swords. He told me that the swords were both unsigned, and short. In addition I was informed that these swords had been examined by two of the major Japanese sword dealers in southern California. I have known both of these dealers for many years, and I knew they are considered very knowledgeable, with many years in the business, so I was very cautious.
I was told, that both of these Japanese sword dealers, had made offers slightly less than the sellers were willing to take, so I figured there wasn't enough meat left on the bone. I still wanted to see these swords for myself, so I drove an hour north to see them. I did not expect to buy them but I was curious enough to want to see them. When I got there and examined them, I suspected one of them could be very special. The other sword had an average blade and fantastic fittings, so I knew if I bought them, even in the worst case scenario, it wasn't going to be a serious loss. To make a long story short, I put down my hard earned cash, and paid $5000 for the two mumei wakizashi. I then sent the guy who referred me a nice commission, so I'm sure he will call me again when another nice sword surfaces.
I am happy to report that my decision was a good one. I sold the one with fantastic fittings on eBay for over $6,000.00, and sent the one, with a very good looking blade to shinsa. This blade turned out to be be a Nakajima Rai (Kuniyasu), the father of Chirozuru (Echizen Rai) and dated to the early to mid nambokucho period.
I was able to make this buying decision based on my foundation of knowledge gained from my personal experiences, and in part by attending Japanese sword shows over a number of years, and examining as many of the best blades I could get my hands on, in a methodical way.
Once I was able to determine a blade looked special, the buy decision is easier. I never rushed making the decision, and before putting out my hard earned money, I examined these swords very closely to make sure there were no serious problems.
At the time, I had no idea who made the wide mumei blade, but I was pretty sure it was made in the nambokucho period, and I did recognize it was an exceptionally well made, and healthy blade of high quality. I was also able to determine it had no serious flaws. This level of evaluation may be the best any non-expert can realistically hope to achieve.
Relatively recently, I purchased a Heian tachi, with a nagasa of over 30 inches at the Chicago sword show. I got this blade for less than $900.00. Other dealers had examined the blade, and rejected it, as it had a very hard to see yakiba, and clearly there were areas where I couldn't see the temper at all. I was told the blade had likely been in a fire, so it was being sold as a relic. I looked at the sword and saw some temper here and there along the ha. It was frustrating to examine this out of polish blade, as in some lighting I could clearly see tempering, and in other lighting, it vanished. Knowing that any blade of this length and age was rare, I decided to buy it. I brought it home, and put it in eBay with a Buy it Now at $4500.00.
Next thing I knew, this eBay offering had become the subject of discussion on the NMB (Nihonto Message Board).
I discovered I was being accused of misrepresenting this Heian tachi on eBay in my item description.
I included photos in my listing, that showed that the blade had a tempered edge. The fellow who had sold me this sword had posted a message, that stating that he had informed me when selling me the sword, that the blade had been in a fire, and had lost it's tempering.
I had a long time sword friend in Canada contact me to let me know my reputation was being slandered on the NMB.
I went on to the NMB to see what was going on. I read the posts, and found that there were two sides to this discussion.
One side was spearheaded by the guy who sold me the Heian sword for $890, who claimed he told me the blade had been in a fire, and that there was no temper, and that I was misrepresenting the sword on eBay.
There were other sword collectors who clearly saw the tempering in my eBay photos. One guy even asked ... "is it possible that Chaffee had the sword retempered, and put it on eBay... in less than a week?"
The next thing I knew, the sword sold with the "Buy It Now" to a collector in Europe.
Since then, the new owner in Europe has received the sword, and has informed me that he is very pleased with it. He also was reading the NMB posts, and sent me an email referring to the ones who had made the accusations as being "Sour Grapes".
This winning bidder Mr. W. N., sent me another email a few months later informing me that he had shown the Heian tachi to a recognized expert in Europe, and confirmed that the blade is indeed a genuine Heian tachi, and, that the $4500.00 price my winning bidder paid, was a wise investment.
Mr. W. N., has joined the dozens of happy eBay sword buyers, who have purchased accurately represented Japanese swords from me on eBay over the last decade.