One of the things I find myself discussing from time to time with friends is the state of modern collections, and what it means to be a procurer of antiques in this day and age. With the introduction of Internet auctions and online purchases, people are buying blind more now than ever before. By that I mean, purchase decisions based on photo’s or descriptions only. Purchases of this kind may be fine with a trusted friend or respected dealer. But what of the online auctions and newer collectors, where do they begin ?.
One of my first questions is usually what are people after, quantity or quality. If we have unlimited resources then I could see how this discussion would be moot. But if on a budget then what is the best thing to do. Having a lot of average pieces may give you an indication of the styles and construction methods of different schools but it will not be their best work, probably just their average or worse. A few excellent pieces may mean you have a small collection albeit a very good one. What we need to do is work out which is more important for us.
I can imagine a huge collection is impressive at first sight, and rightly so if assembled over many years with a sound knowledge built along the way. But then I think on my visits to the national gallery. I personally tend to find I glance over the whole collection or exhibition, and then single out one or two works of great interest and study these as opposed to trying to take in every single piece and be overwhelmed by the shear size of the show. This of course is just me, and we are all different, but are modern collections becoming like this ?, and would we rather be overwhelmed by mass than have a few great pieces . With the availability of mass produced and lower end tsuba, fittings and even swords on online auction forums such as Ebay and Yahoo, it is easy to fall into the trap of buying in bulk, it can be exciting and almost intoxicating or addictive, but then what is it we are accumulating ?.
The catch 22 here is of course, how do we buy with sound experience without first starting somewhere, biting the bullet as it were and taking that first plunge with novice eyes and a nervous wallet.
How do we then begin to decide what a collection is, or should be, and how do we know if we are doing the right thing, or do we collect what ever we like and enjoy it for what it is and make it as simple as that. These are hard questions to answer for beginners and intermediaries alike. Hard because there are no rules or guidelines to follow other that what feels right to you the collector. We for the most part do not have the experience to know if we are doing the right thing or not. Add to that the mass choice of the online auction and we just make this whole process harder. These are some of the things that makes this hobby so challenging and so interesting.
So what do we do, the age old advice of buying books, attending shows and meeting people and asking questions can never be underestimated so go and do it. Some people however do not live in areas close to these displays so failing that, try and uncover other collectors in your local area, or even state and go and meet them, look at their items and share yours. Hands on experience is the fastest way to gain knowledge and will only add to our ability to make sound purchase decisions in the future. Taking our time and not just buying the first thing we think we like helps as well.
In regards to tosogu, also take a look on the web. I can whole heartedly recommend the following sites for a great information and biographies.
Jim Gilbert’s site
This hobby needs to be enjoyed as it is a very hard road to travel. Mistakes can be expensive and your library can cost you as much if not more as a high end fitting or medium ranged sword. It can all be very mind boggeling.
Please keep in mind, these words are only intended to make us stop and reflect on what it is we are doing, why we are doing it, and to try and help us remember what it is we love about this obsession.
What ever it is you decide to do, enjoy.