Antique Swords Buying Advice

from fakes.

Genuine antique jian with reconstructed handle.
Alt Text--Antique swords jian

Your intended purchases are advertised as antique swords but how do you know they aren't fakes? Unfortunately the Chinese sword buying world has been tainted with a plethora of false claims. Don't be fooled. Your authentic sword from the early Qing may be no more than a fake reproduction, carefully treated to look older than it really is. I have no problem with people making reproduction swords as long as they are honest and sell them for what they are. The trouble comes when people lie about what they are selling, or make false claims in ignorance. If I want to buy a Qing sword, I pay a high price for a real one. I don't want to pay antique sword prices for a faked copy.


Antique sword. By definition, antique means over 100 years old.
Vintage bazaar sword that made no
false claims.
Alt Text--Antique swords or vintage bazaar
Vintage bazaar sword. Usually a copy of an antique sword made for the tourist trade and sold in markets in China. They appeared in bulk proportions from the Republican era. Some are very good quality swords and some are poorly made. As time went on, copies of copies appeared with the quality deteriorating. Buyer beware. These are interesting if advertised as what they are. If they are advertised as antiques or real, they are not and it becomes a sale of either deception or ignorance.

Modern reproduction. A modern, forge-made blade fashioned after the statistics of earlier battle swords, and making no false claims. There are a lot of good modern reproductions available.

Battle ready. This should mean a sword that would be strong enough and correct enough to preserve your life on the battle field. Too often it has come to be a meaningless buzz-word used by sellers of poor quality swords to attract unwary buyers. If the ad says "battle ready", it probably isn't. The exception of course, is my sword sales page for the Huanuo Royal Peony Sanmei Jian. This truly is a "battle ready" sword. Notice the price of something really well made and don't think you are going to get a high quality sword for $150.

Movie swords. these are decorative wallhangers made to the design of a real sword used in a movie. For example, Peter Lyon forged the Narnia swords. The originals are real, high quality swords. Then the copyright designs were used to mass produce swords in the same shape, for sale. I have an Arwen sabre on my shelf. It looks lovely but it isn't forged. It would bend or break if you tried to use it. Keep movie swords for their purpose - decoration.

Movie sword - Arwen decorative sabre.
Alt Text--movie swords

Rat tail tang. I've seen this advertised as a good thing - "genuine rat tail tang". Actually, it's usually a weakness. A full tang sword has the tang extending as a part of the blade. It may be tapered towards the end or even shaped for a nut but it is very strong. A rat tail tang is a thin rod of metal welded to the blade and covered by the handle. The thickness of the rod is directly proportionate to the number of swings it takes to bend it. The strength of the weld is proportionate to the number of strikes it takes to break it. Rat tail tangs proliferated in the late Qing and Republican era, when swords were less important for battle. They are still used on cheap, weak sword-like objects today.

SLO or wallhanger. Sword like object. Something made for hanging on the wall, not for actual use.

Hand forged. Don't be confused. Some factory swords, turned out en masse, are called hand forged. They aren't. They are made with machines. A real hand forged sword is made by a swordsmith. They are made one at a time with great care. Consequently, they cost a lot more. Expect to pay at least $2000 for a custom made hand forged sword. If it's selling for a few hundred, chances are it's factory made. There are a lot of good, useful factory made swords out there, by the way. Just don't pay custom prices for factory swords. Make sure you understand what you are getting and are happy with it.

Wushu sword.
Alt Text--wushu sword
Real sword. A real sword is something that could have been made for use in battle. It might be modern or an antique sword, but it's good enough as a tool for battle and not a weak copy. The swords used in wushu, are not real swords. Real swords are rigid but with resiliance. They don't wobble about or make snapping noises when you send energy through them. That's just for showmanship. I use a stronger variation of wushu sword for training children and beginners how to do their sword forms with the edge in the correct position. Everything has its place.

Why Fakes are Bad

Over priced. Antique swords are a work of art from the past. Expect to pay a high price for a genuine antique sword. If someone is passing off a more recent sword as antique and charging authentic sword prices, they are robbing you. This is either ignorance of the value of the sword or plain criminal deception.

Harmful to reputable dealers. If a faker is selling a sword at a lower price than a similar genuine antique sword, it takes business away from the honest dealers. It muddies the world of real swords as people become less aware of the genuine article.

Wilful Deception. Those who make fakes to pass off as genuine antique swords, make a career of improving their deceptive methods. They artificially age the swords and use methods that make it very hard to tell the difference. For this reason, those of us who love Chinese swords, withhold some of the information. On this page, I give the obvious and well known methods of telling authentic swords from fakes. I withhold the few things better fakers have not yet discovered. Why pass on ammunition for better forgery? I do wonder why someone would go to the time and trouble of making a good forgery when there is a market for well made modern reproductions anyway. Why not sell them for what they are? People will buy a good sword and be happy with it. Why pretend it's an antique sword when it's not?

Ignorant Deception. This happens when people who do not know enough about swords decide to sell antiques. They can easily believe what they are told and pass on the deception in ignorance. The result is the same as wilful deception except there are now two victims - the unwary buyer who paid too much for a lie, and the ignorant vendor who sold it for the wrong price and will have to repay this to the seller when he becomes aware of the error.

Devaluation. How often have you heard it said that Chinese swords were flimsy compared to Japanese? This is complete nonsense. The Japanese process of forging blades came from the Chinese in the first place. However, fake swords passed off as the real thing, add to this misconception. If people believe a fake sword is an authentic sword, they will believe what they see and take their observations to be truth. This is harmful to everything about Chinese martial arts.

Reputable Experts

I only know a few people who can genuinely tell you if your proposed purchase is an antique sword. I'm going to name those I know. If someone else wishes to have their name added to this list, have one of the people on the list already, authenticate your expertise to me, and I'll happily add your name. If you want advice about your antique swords, ask one of these people. Type the name into Google with the word "sword" next to it, and you'll find them:

Philip Tom
Scott M. Rodell
Peter Dekker
Yu Ming Chang

19th Century Jian Collection - copyright Scott M. Rodell: Sevenstars Trading.
Alt Text--antique swords jian

The Fine Print

A word on legal disclaimers. Any reputable dealer will offer you a money back guarantee if you are not happy your antique sword is the genuine article. I recently translated a legal disclaimer from a German site which had different wording. The dealer said his swords were as he advertised them, to the best of his knowledge, which he got from the people who passed them on to him. He said he could not be responsible for the truth of their claims if they proved to be false. This is not a money back guarantee. It's an excuse for selling you the wrong thing with no promise of making it good. Do not buy from a dealer who doesn't know enough to validate his own antique sword sales.

This thread at Sword Forum International discusses the usefulness of Certificates of Authenticity.

Signs of Reality

Look for signs of age.
Alt Text--antique sword patination
The tang. Look at rust on the tang where the sword has not been cleaned up. Red rust is very recent. It's a new sword. Orange rust takes you back a bit further, then brown. The oldest swords have black patination.

Sanmei blade. Look for a geniune edge plate with appropriate age related patination - not just a pattern welded blade. I'm not going to elaborate on that. If you don't know what I'm hinting at, ask an expert.

Patination. Different steels rust at different rates.

Other clues. Motifs have to be relevant to the time. Tools used leave marks. Materials used are age relevant. Wear and tear may change the shape.

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