The Story of.... The way of the Samurai on the auction block

Weapons and memorabilia associated with Samurai warriors holds a fascination for collectors which few areas of collecting can match.

The rise of the Samurai, as a Japanese social class began in the Heian Period (794-1185), and continued through the close of feudalism in Japan in the late nineteenth century.

Samurai warriors used a wide variety of weapons, including clubs, daggers and even the Manrikigusari, (which means "strength of a thousand men") a chain, made entirely of solid metal, about 2-3 feet in length with both ends of the chain capped with metal handles.

However, it is samurai swords and their armour which have captured the imagination of collectors most at auction. The samurai warriors were equipped with a 'daisho' (greater/lesser) combination of a katana (longsword) and a wakizashi (a short sword which was never out of his reach even whilst sleeping).

A beautiful original antique Samurai daisho, around 300 to 400 years old, was sold on the collectors' market a year ago for £12,000 ($19,400), so classic pieces can be obtained by entry-level collectors. But classic pieces are often worth more.

For its beautiful workmanship, and exceptionally lethal appearance, a katana sold in November 2010 stands out. The Bicchu-Aoe juyo katana (longsword) dated back to 1361.

Samurai armour
Not to be messed with... a full suit of samurai armour

It was only the second blade by Tsugunao to have been offered for sale in the West for over twenty years, the first being a tachi blade, dated 1347, from the Walter Compton collection, sold at Christie's in 1992.

During the period of 1350-1370, Aoe smiths tended to produce blades with tight, clear ko-itame-hada, distinct from the chirimen-hada which was associated with earlier Aoe work, and the rarity of the blade helped it to its £90,000 ($145,000) value.

Over in America, the pick of the Important Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art auction at I M Chait in March is undoubtedly an antique Japanese samurai suit of armour.  

The 57 inch antique Japanese black lacquer and iron samurai suit is matched in splendour by a helmet with gilt reinforcement strips known as a shinodare.

A crest bearing a Buddhist inscription "Hachiman dai Bosatsu" and a half-mask and louvered neck guard are also included. Shoulder guards and three-panel thigh guards round out the ensemble. The items are laced together with white cord.

This magnificent outfit has a high end estimate of $18,000. Again, though, they can bring more. In October 2009, a set of red-and-blue-laced gold-lacquered Honkozane Nimai do Gusoku armour doubled its $250,000-$300,000 estimate to bring $602,500 at Christie's in New York.


Join our readers in over 200 countries around the world - sign up for your free weekly Collectibles Newsletter today or download our free Collectors News app for your iPhone



Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock