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Subject: Sword


From: Tom Dixon <tom.dixon>
Date: Monday, September 6, 1999
Susan Fatemi <susanf [at] eerc__berkeley__edu> writes

>Please forgive this question coming from a non-conservator, but I
>would appreciate hearing others' philosophy on the topic of how far
>restoration should go.
>We have an antique Japanese sword in the family.
>Anyway, if anyone would like to share their opinions on conservative
>treatment vs. full restoration (of anything, not just swords) I'd
>like to hear about it.

Good question! I am an art conservator with some experience handling
Japanese swords.  In the Bay area you should have no trouble finding
expert advice and the necessary materials to keep your sword well. A
few calls to the upmarket auction houses (its been a long time since
I lived in the Bay Area, but Butterfield and Butterfield comes to
mind) or the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco should put you on the
trail of expertise.  I personally would not have it re polished, but
leave it as it is with the exception of dealing with the rust spots.
If any re polishing is considered, have it done by a very
experienced traditionally trained expert and be prepared to wait a
long time and pay a lot.  This is an irreversible restoration and as
such, if it is done less than properly will significantly devalue
the sword in both monetary and historic senses.  Perhaps the most
prestigious contact for swords and the knowledge of them is Nippon
Bijitsu Token Hozon Kyokai (Society for the Preservation of Japanese
Art Swords)  One of their associates, Omino Sword Shop in Tokyo many
years ago had a contact at Omino International at 1101 Euclid Ave,
Berkeley but I'm sure there would be many sword dealers in the area.

Handle the sword very carefully, exactly as you would a running
chainsaw.  It is common for this to be under estimated and I've seen
several swords with nicks and rust stains caused by blood likely
from someone drawing the sword and either cutting through the
scabbard into their hand or testing the sharpness with their finger
and finding out yup, its sharp all right and then dropping it.  I
witnessed a bad accident in Japan by a very senior swordsman who for
just a moment lost concentration and cut halfway through the bones
of his hand. Yes, I'm trying to scare you.

It would be good to learn to disassemble the sword safely and
competently, use a clean soft cloth to wipe away residual oil (or
use the proper special paper sold by specialist sword shops- but
don't use any other type of paper), then lightly re-oil with special
sword oil.  You will need someone competent to show you how to do
this once.  I personally would then apply a dot of microcrystalline
wax in mineral turpentine to the rust spots.  Reassemble the sword.
This should be done every few years.  The blade wants to be kept
dry, but the wood parts want some moisture- a conservator's dilemma.
Check it for rust periodically and if it is to be stored for a
period of months, at the very least place it in a proper bag to help
temper humidity changes.

I am a believer that if you have something really dangerous around-
a gun, car, swimming pool, big dog, sword- its worth taking some
time to learn to use it, or at least see it used, competently. There
will be Iaido (sword drawing) schools around you but the good ones
aren't likely to be in the Yellow Pages. Once you find them, such
schools are often very open to interested people and will likely
welcome you to watch a class.  Having a good look at a few of them
may well open up a very interesting world and at the very least give
you a new respect for your family sword and its history and some
contacts who will be able to advise you on keeping it well.

Thomas Dixon
Chief Conservator
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Australia

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:20
               Distributed: Thursday, September 16, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-13-20-002
Received on Monday, 6 September, 1999

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