How to tell AUTHENTIC SWORDS
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scott M. Rodell
Yu Ming Chang
This thread at Sword Forum International discusses the usefulness of Certificates of Authenticity.
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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