Context

This came up recently advising  someone about a nidai Tadatsuna sword. The owner had a fine specimen of more than premium length and ranked Tokubetsu Hozon, and he was happy with the piece and it represented this smith in his collection. Probably the sword sold for what appeared to be a budget friendly price, as this is a famous smith and well regarded it was bought and added to this collection.

There are details though that apply to these things that are not always evident to buyers. I’ll go over a few examples.

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Asking and arguing

We have all experienced this I am sure. Probably we have been on both sides of this coin.

Someone you know consults with you for your opinion, no matter what the subject is. You give your opinion, if it is in disagreement with their own, they begin to argue with you. 

When people ask for an opinion they are pursuing one of two goals: Education or Confirmation. In the case of someone seeking education they are trying to extract some information and update their own knowledge, either in the abstract or in the concrete (i.e. “what is this thing that I have”).

Based on people’s psychological makeup, and their reason for pursuing this hobby or anything similar, they will have a natural inclination to one path or the other. People who simply seek out confirmation will eventually find it, and they will sort out their opinions of everyone else based on whether or not they receive confirmation of their existing beliefs. It is not just with collectors of antiques or art, it goes for politics, religion, or who you think the best quarterback in the NFL is. 

This flowchart illustrates the two different paths someone seeking education and someone seeking confirmation follow. This is very important to be aware of because it is human nature to seek out confirmation of our existing beliefs and biases. It interferes with our judgment and ability to learn when we seek confirmation instead of education. 

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But All My Friends Say It’s Good

There has always been this phenomenon out there. But it seems to be getting worse. Treasure hunters everywhere want to be that guy who discovers something very important, both for the prestige, the thill and of course the valuation. 

Importantly in digging up gold and diamonds: it certainly helps if you are a geologist.

The problem that people have is that they want to be the treasure hunter and make their big score, but they don’t have the background to understand what they are looking at. People have a very large emotional need to have their find confirmed. 

I have encountered this attitude many times. 

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Naginata and Naginata Naoshi

A naginata polearm can be shortened like a tachi, via suriage and reshaped into a katana. There is a subtype of naginata called a nagamaki which can only be truly identified when it is with its koshirae. The name actually reflects on the wrap of the tsuka of this type of polearm. Basically, how the blade is mounted and used ends up giving it purpose, and so its name.

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Pragmatism

If you found a sword.

And you lived in Japan. 

And the sword had old green papers to Soshu Masamune. 

Would you:

a) Bring the sword to the NBTHK to have a look at seeing as they are right in Tokyo?

b) Put the sword as-is on a second rate internet auction site clogged with junk?

The answer is simple. If you think it’s legitimate you do (a) and if you think it’s fake you do (b) for a few reasons.

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Catfishing

Hiding who you really are to hook someone into an online relationship using Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, MySpace or by cell phone.
Guy 1: “Hey so I met this new girl online! She is so hot!” 
Guy 2: “Have you ever seen her in person?” 
Guy 1:”No, does that matter?” 
Guy 2: “Better make sure she’s not a catfish..” 
Guy 1: “You think she’s catfishing?!”
 
— Urban Dictionary
Ah the perils of the internet.
 
We have a catfishing problem going on in the sword world. So far this as far as I can tell has not yet escaped Japan, but it will.
 
 

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Black Box

This is a common failure in markets where people do not have access to information. They begin to gut it out and lacking information consider all things to be equal. Then you get this question.

Exhibit A: 🎁 … this item has a price of $100. 

Exhibit B: 📦  … this item has a price of $200. 

Which is more expensive, A or B?

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Oshigata

An oshigata is a drawing of a sword, focusing on its hamon and shape. They have been used since before the advent of photography to record and document swords for reference. They can also serve as a fingerprint of sorts by focusing on the nakago which is transferred to the paper by rubbing.

A few heads up in this area are worth noting.

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Ladder Theory — Ladder Fallacy

That’s too expensive for only Hozon.

— Everyone

There are four levels of NBTHK papers: Hozon, Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo. This four level ranking system unfortunately means that people end up with four slots in their head for placing an object’s importance and desirability. 

This mistake takes its lead from the fact that it’s easy to grasp and remember four simple categories than it is to remember the vast and complex web of smiths, time periods, schools, their associations with each other, their place in history, as well as the myriad of individual qualities that make an item desirable.

All of that complexity is often boiled down into the thinking that an item with a particular paper should fall into a defined pricing range based on the paper.

This puts the cart (paper) in front of the horse (item). 

My complaints about this mentality were bounced back in my face by Robert Hughes with two words that really grasped the problem well. He just said: Ladder Theory. And that crystallized it all for me.

Bear with me. This is long and rambling.

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The Engineering Triangle

This may have gotten its start in project management… we have a similar thing in software development that says, On Time, Stable, Cheap, “Pick Two.”

It talks about the necessary tradeoffs when building software. Executive level management pushes down and demands very high quality (bug-free) software, with a full set of features, delivered on time and under budget. This is a virtual impossibility as these constraints are usually chosen as independent variables but they affect each other.

In order for a piece of software to be stable you need an indefinite timeline as finding and solving bugs is not a problem you can put on a calendar and say “at this point we’re finished.” This puts it in conflict with the desire to be on time. You can solve that with a huge investment in testing and bug squashing resources, but that will inflate the budget. So if you want it delivered quickly and cheaply, by necessity it ends up not being very stable.

That’s about what you can get in reality.

This matter of tradeoffs applies to swords and collecting.

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Bitcoin

So, there’s this thing, you don’t know anything about it but you’re a gambling man and you’re pretty smart. So you buy it. You’re buying it because you’re going to sell it later to someone else who doesn’t want to buy it now at $X, however that guy later will buy it for $X + $Y and that $Y is going to be your profit. This will take six months. You think this is reasonable. 

To the bold go the spoils. Don’t worry about studying or knowing what you’re doing. Just jump in. 

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Green Papers Pt. 2

I am glad my post on green papers is getting some traction and the issue is being discussed. There is some of the expected harrumphing and finger pointing going around as people are reacting to the information, and I suggest to not get distracted by it. No handwaving is required and no conspiracy theories necessary about this being a scam wherein the NBTHK accuses itself of fraudulent papers in order to get people to pay twice for papers (kind of like shooting yourself in the face in order to claim insurance).

This is the appropriate response if you think your green papers are good:

I GUARANTEE IT.

If you really believe in it, you can do it.

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The humble wakizashi

You may have gotten advice when you started out to buy a wakizashi as your first item. I am not 100% sure yet if this is completely out-dated bullshit advice (like uchiko improving a polish), or if it is meant well and properly. I want to poke at that idea a bit and see if something comes out of it. 

There is certainly a bias in the market against wakizashi. This has some merit, and this in other regards lacks merit. Basically, a wakizashi is a case by case thing. Who made it, why they made it, when they made it, all of this factors into how you should be thinking about them.

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