Three Japanese Swords

Value (2005) | $12,000 Auction$18,000 Auction

Well, my grandfather was a member of Company H of the North Dakota Volunteers. He went to the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. And my understanding is that he and some of his other officer friends went to Japan on the way home, and he purchased these three swords in Japan and brought them back. This has been in our family ever since I can remember. These two he gave to his sister, and her daughter gave them back to me, because she had no children. She just thought they should all stay together.

So these have been in your family's possession since around 19...

No, 1898.



That's unusual, because most of the stories that we hear about Japanese swords were that they were brought back during World War II.

This one and some other swords were up in the attic of the house. My cousin and I played with them-- sword-fought, you know, as children do.

That's great. Well, what you have here is a daisho set. The top two swords, a katana and a wakizashi, are mounted together and worn by a mid-level samurai during the Edo period, between, uh, 1600 and 1868. They're mounted with fishbone here.


The value of these swords is essentially in the fittings. The blades themselves are a little... They've been used. And so, what you have is your suba and your fuchi kashira, and your kozuka, all amounted in mixed metal, and very fine metals. And so, that's essentially where the value is in these blades. This is a very, very unusual sword. This is a sword worn in the Tokugawa period, which was essentially from 1600 until 1868. This is the crest of the imperial family, the Tokugawa mon, which you also see reflected on the mounts. Some people believe that the bigger the samei, or the ray skin, the more important the samurai who brandished this blade. Here you have your Tokugawa mounts, and you have your rice bails. Now, the samurai were there to protect the agriculture, so this is a symbol of, and it can be also interpreted as a symbol of the rank of the samurai. The blade here is in really good condition. Unfortunately, with all of these three blades, due to time constraints, we have not been able to unmount them. And an integral part of appraising swords is to find out if they're in good condition, if they haven't been remounted and if, of course, they're signed by famous makers. So, the values that I'm going to give you are preliminary. For the daisho set, as is, without knowing who made them and the condition of the blades under the tsuka, you'd be looking at $4,000 to $6,000 preliminary value at auction. Now, for the large sword, you'd be looking, again, preliminary auction value--


--of $8,000 to $12,000.


Appraisal Details

Bonhams, San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
Appraised value (2005)
$12,000 Auction$18,000 Auction
Bismarck, ND (July 30, 2005)
Asian Arts

Executive producer Marsha Bemko shares her tips for getting the most out of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW.

Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."

Note the date: Take note of the date the appraisal was recorded. This information appears in the upper left corner of the page, with the label "Appraised On." Values change over time according to market forces, so the current value of the item could be higher, lower, or the same as when our expert first appraised it.

Context is key: Listen carefully. Most of our experts will give appraisal values in context. For example, you'll often hear them say what an item is worth "at auction," or "retail," or "for insurance purposes" (replacement value). Retail prices are different from wholesale prices. Often an auctioneer will talk about what she knows best: the auction market. A shop owner will usually talk about what he knows best: the retail price he'd place on the object in his shop. And though there are no hard and fast rules, an object's auction price can often be half its retail value; yet for other objects, an auction price could be higher than retail. As a rule, however, retail and insurance/replacement values are about the same.

Verbal approximations: The values given by the experts on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are considered "verbal approximations of value." Technically, an "appraisal" is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes, written by a qualified expert and paid for by the owner of the item. An appraisal usually involves an extensive amount of research to establish authenticity, provenance, composition, method of construction, and other important attributes of a particular object.

Opinion of value: As with all appraisals, the verbal approximations of value given at ROADSHOW events are our experts' opinions formed from their knowledge of antiques and collectibles, market trends, and other factors. Although our valuations are based on research and experience, opinions can, and sometimes do, vary among experts.

Appraiser affiliations: Finally, the affiliation of the appraiser may have changed since the appraisal was recorded. To see current contact information for an appraiser in the ROADSHOW Archive, click on the link below the appraiser's picture. Our Appraiser Index also contains a complete list of active ROADSHOW appraisers and their contact details and biographies.