19th-Century Japanese Suit of Armor

Value (2010) | $5,000 Auction$8,000 Auction
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GUEST:
My dad bought it in the mid to late '50s from a friend of his brother. He was needing some money. My dad really liked the piece and he was really fascinated with the samurai, just the history of it, so he bought it for $25. I did some research and I really couldn't find anything about it, but it was... you know, growing up, when I was little, we, me and my brother, we put it on and we wore it and took pictures. When you're a little kid, it's a blast. You're a samurai.

APPRAISER:
How old were you when you were wearing this?

GUEST:
Probably ten or 11.

APPRAISER:
It's very interesting that you wore this at that age, because actually the size of this is pretty small. People are often amazed at how small the scale was, because we've grown so much as a human race. Armor was meant to protect, and Japanese armor in particular was meant to protect while being extremely lightweight and durable. And this was the most efficient and innovative and cutting-edge kind of technology that was available at the time this was made. The purpose of these different layers of fabric and lacquered metal-- and you see that all the way going down here-- is to protect against glancing blows or direct blows with a samurai saber. And samurai sabers are very sharp. When you hit it, it's going to glance off.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
And it's not going to be able to cut through. And if you hit it directly, it would be very difficult to cut straight through this, these different layers of fabric. As we lift this up, you can see how the scales were made, overlapping, and they're lacquered metal.

GUEST:
Oh, wow.

APPRAISER:
Very lightweight. You'll notice here that this is a dragon with clouds and a flaming pearl. This is actually silk.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
And I think the majority of these pieces were intended to be together.

GUEST:
Oh, wow.

APPRAISER:
And one of the clues to that is not only just the surface appearance, but also the fact that this type of fabric appears on virtually every piece of this armor. And what's interesting about this is this is not Japanese fabric.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
This is Chinese fabric, and it's 18th-century Chinese silk that would have been considered extremely valuable and rare and unusual for whoever had commissioned this suit of armor.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
Now, one might assume that this is an 18th-century suit of armor. I actually think it's a 19th-century suit of armor. Most of these ceased to be manufactured once you had the introduction of the Meiji period in the late 19th century. What's also terrific is you've got the box, this original box, and you can see it would have been brightly lacquered, red and black or burgundy color. You also have, when you were in battle, you'd want some sort of an insignia, called a mon, which would be your family crest or whoever you were fighting for, that would be placed on top, up here, so you could be identified as you were part of the larger group of soldiers streaming across a battlefield.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
Now, this is gilt brass, so it's a little bit of a lesser material.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
Now, there are some missing pieces. We have here on the box the arm guards, which are chain mail. And you'll notice that these have the same Chinese silk panels.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
But they're missing the gloves, and these would have been articulated with little scales over each of the fingers, and it would have been metal. So you're missing some pieces. Most of it's in pretty good shape. The Chinese silk part of it is not in terribly good shape. At auction, I would expect this suit of armor to make somewhere between $5,000 and $8,000 today.

GUEST:
Oh, wow. Okay. Great.

APPRAISER:
If all the pieces were here and this were in perfect shape, it probably would be $10,000 to $15,000.

GUEST:
Oh, wow. Okay.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Lark Mason Associates
New York, NY
Appraised value (2010)
$5,000 Auction$8,000 Auction
Event
Billings, MT (June 26, 2010)
Period
19th Century
Form
Armor
Material
Brass, Cloth, Metal, Silk

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