Recognizing a Japanese Antique Sword
New Japanese swords are considered to be from the World War II era or later. While, naturally, World War II swords are quite collectible, they are not antique – yet. While there are techniques for recognizing a true Japanese antique sword, they are not foolproof. If there is any doubt, consult an expert. There are many sword collecting clubs around the county. Sharing your passion for Japanese swords with knowledgeable collectors is a good way to increase your knowledge and have a good time.
Know Your Sword
A good way to discover a modern copy or a practice sword is to check the blade with a magnet. Many new swords are made of aluminum which is not magnetic. A steel blade will respond to the magnet. This is not the final test for an antique sword since some modern blades are made of steel, but it is a quick and easy first way to sort out the fakes. Every serious collector should know that there are no swords made specifically for ninjas.
The old technique for making swords will result in a visible grain in the steel blade. The grain is not always easy to recognize and an antique sword may not have a visible grain, but if you can determine a grain, you will know that you have a genuinely old Japanese blade. Serial numbers on the blade are, of course, found on machine made swords. A sword with stamped serial numbers may still be collectible, but is not an antique sword.
If the handle can be removed safely and without damaging the sword, you can check the tang for information. The tang of a newer sword should be grey and metallic with little, if any, rust. An older sword will have more rust on the tang. The color should be brown to the smooth deep black rust for the antique sword.
If there is a tang stamp, the sword was made after the 1930’s. A signature on the tang does not indicate whether it is handmade or machine made as some World War II machine made blades were signed for luck and not all handmade blades were signed.
Sword canes usually have low grade blades with noticeable flaws and were produced from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Modern times saw many items made for the tourist trade including replicas of old Japanese swords. This fact alone makes it difficult for the untrained collector to be sure of the age of a true antique sword. Always check with an expert before investing a lot of money and always work to increase your knowledge.