Japanese sword is special because of history, value [Ask the Experts]

By Dr. Anthony J. Cavo

Japanese WWII sword and scabbard

Japanese sword and scabbard with connection to the Marshall Islands (World War II).

Q: I would appreciate any help you can give me. I believe this Japanese sword to be from World War II. I was told the father that owned the piece was in the war and took it off a deceased Japanese soldier during some fight in the Marshall Islands. Can you tell me if this is right?

And what it might be worth?

Thanks again for your help.

— G.S., Florida

Japanese swords are no light subject

A: This appraisal will hardly do justice regarding the subject of Japanese swords and, in fact, may leave our Japanese sword collectors up in arms (pun intended). Unfortunately, there is not enough space in this column or in this entire issue of A.T. to address the various nuances of Japanese swords. I’m not vacillating when using the rather generic term “Japanese sword.” I do so because there are many different types of Japanese swords each with its own size, shape and name (katana, wakizashi, tachi), with the name being dependent on the size and also on what other bladed weapon with which it is paired.

Japanese sword with Marshall Islands provenance

Japanese sword and scabbard with connection to the Marshall Islands (World War II).

For instance, together a katana matched with a wakizashi form a daisho. Designations are also based on age [Shinshintō  — 新々刀 1781-1876], Gendaitō  — 現代刀 1876-1945], and [Shinsakutō — 新作刀 1953-present].

To further confuse the issue for those not familiar with Japanese swords, each katana (what we commonly refer to as a samurai sword) and its saya (scabbard) can have more than 32 different identifiable parts and surfaces. I have taken the liberty to label some of these components on the photographs you submitted.

To completely understand Japanese blade weapons requires years of dedicated study. Not only study of the sword but of the Japanese culture; it is truly a specialty. There is an entire language associated with Japanese swords and to make matters more challenging for the western collector, these words are Japanese. Also, you did not provide the measurements of your weapon, which are required to even begin to evaluate your sword.

Japanese sword names, parts

Japanese sword handle parts

Japanese sword handle diagram with names of details.

If you look closely at the tsuka (handle) of your sword you will note it has an intricate samegawa (wrapping) with diamond-shaped openings. Within three of those openings there are menuki (ornaments), which, on your weapon are cherry blossoms; these menuki should be on both sides of the tsuka (handle).

Menuki can take the form of flowers, animals, historical figures, gods, dragons, warriors and many other symbolic items. Menuki (ornaments) are not used on the tsuka (handle) of your sword simply because they are decorative, they are there for a specific reason. Everything used on a Japanese sword is symbolic of some aspect of the culture, time period or owner of the weapon. The cherry blossom menuki on your sword are symbolic of renewal and the fleeting nature of life (which, for the Japanese soldier who owned this, was especially prophetic). The menuki on your sword match the pattern on the fuchi or the collar just next to the tsuba (told you this could get confusing), which tells me they are original to the sword.

The chrysanthemum (kiku) mount on the scabbard is quite ornate and is symbolic for longevity and rejuvenation and is used as the Imperial Seal of Japan.

The chain attached to the saya (scabbard) that suspends the katana (sword) has a very unusual and interesting charm or amulet of a soldier preparing to draw his sword; the figure appears to have Japanese characters on the coat. This is very unusual and fascinating.

Japanese WWII scabbard detail

Japanese WWII scabbard detail.

Japanese blades are among the finest made. Some would say they are the finest. As a result they have been counterfeited on a great scale. Some quite accurately, some approximately and some rather poorly, using aluminum rather than steel. Optimally the collector will encounter a sword such as yours (assuming the provenance is accurate rather than apocryphal), with the correct time frame and origin – such as in the history you were given.

 

 

Japanese sword’s historical significance

The Marshall Islands saw a great deal of battle especially from January 29, 1944 to February 20, 1944 during which time American forces captured the islands of Kwajalein, Eniwetok and the Majuro Atolls. It is important for a variety of reasons that you identify the serviceman who captured the sword and document his service history – this would add greatly to not only the monetary value but more importantly the historical value.

Japanese WWII scabbard detail

Japanese WWII scabbard detail

To assign a monetary value is a very specialized process depending on many things. Value will be affected by the maker, size, and condition (especially of the cutting edge of the blade). And, of course, the provenance. Single components of Japanese swords such as tsuba or menuki can by themselves command prices in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. These swords can sell in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.

For a proper evaluation, your sword must be closely examined by a specialist in Japanese swords. They should especially look for a maker’s name and any inscriptions. It is a very special piece and we at Antique Trader thank you for sharing this with us. I recommend that you gather as much information as possible from the person who owned the sword before you and then contact the JSSUS (The Japanese Sword Society of the United States: www.jssus.org), which is recognized by the IRS as an educational organization. I think you have a wonderful piece of history.

Limoges porcelain

Limoges porcelain ramekin

Limoges porcelain ramekin.

Q: Hi! I am trying to figure out what piece of dinnerware I have. It is a French Limoges small saucer that comes with a little dish that sort of looks like a cup, but without handles. The ‘cup’ actually has the shape of a top hat. That’s the best I can describe it. I can’t figure out what it was used for. Maybe a julienne, or some kind of a dessert?

I am also trying to understand how old the piece is and its worth.

The marks on the bottom: The first mark is green and looks like a flag: the top part says Limoges, the bottom part says France and in the middle there is a sparrow. The second mark is a blue triangle with insignia CM in the center and on the outer corners it says Limoges, France, decor. There is also a third one, red, obviously added later: C.A. Selzer.

— Name Withheld, Cleveland Ohio

Limoges history

A: Limoges is a city in the Limousin region of west-central France known for its numerous porcelain manufacturers since the mid-18th century. The region is rich in kaolin, a naturally occurring soft white clay used in porcelain production. Clean, white porcelain was made in Limoges from the early 18th to the early 19th century. These pieces were hand-painted or transfer decorated at the factory. Or they were sold as blanks to other firms that decorated the ware. Blanks were also exported and sold to the public who decorated the pieces by hand. Pieces that are hand-painted at the factory are usually in most demand. They can often be found signed on the bottom or in the decoration by the artist. Unusually beautiful pieces both small and very large were produced by countless porcelain manufacturers in Limoges. Items include dinnerware, tableware, vases, bowls, chocolate sets, tea services and decorative pieces.

Limoges porcelain marks

Limoges porcelain marks

When discussing Limoges, it must be remembered that Limoges refers to a region rather than a specific company. It is estimated that 50 or more porcelain manufacturers were at work in the Limoges region during the late 19th to early 20th centuries. All of their pieces are marked “Limoges.”

C. A. Selzer was an antiques dealer in Cleveland, Ohio whose business was located at 1501 Euclid Avenue. (The current site of the Bulkley Building.) By 1920 C. A. Selzer had been in business for more than 30 years. He most likely began as an art dealer sometime around 1880. It was not uncommon for dealers to import this beautiful blank white china, have it painted, and then have their company name or logo added. These retailer or importer marks would have been added over the glaze.

Limoges porcelain identification and value

The piece you have is a ramekin. Traditionally ramekins are small, heat resistant bowls with a fluted exterior used for serving a variety of food. Today you typically see them being used in restaurants without the saucer to serve condiments and salad dressing and desserts like crème brûlée.

Your ramekin, dating from right around 1900, is not meant for the oven. It would have been used at a place setting to serve a condiment or desserts such as custards or pudding. Or it could be used for smaller portions of food consisting of scallops, crab or shrimp. The floral with gold trim motif has come to be associated with Limoges porcelain.

Depending on the maker, artist, and design, these ramekins sell in the $12 to $30 range. Yours is valued at about $14 to $16.  


Dr. Anthony J. Cavo is an honors graduate of the Asheford Institute Of Antiques and a graduate of Reisch College of Auctioneering. He has extensive experience in the field of buying and selling antiques and collectibles; at age 18, he became one of the youngest purchasers and consigners of antiques and art for a New York auction house. Dr. Cavo is an active dealer in the antiques and collectibles marketplace in the U.S. and abroad.

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