I hope the following ‘rules’ of collecting tosogu are helpful. In the end it comes down to personal choice, however if you follow these then you can’t go too far wrong. As you can see from my collection I don’t always follow them as I should!
1. Quality is paramount. Always collect the best you can afford. Average items will always be average, but exceptional will always be desired and cherished. Quality is more important than quantity.
2. Always collect what you like, rather than what other people like. You have to live with your collection.
3. Start off as a book collector before you actually become a tosogu collector. No hour spent on research is a wasted hour. Always have more reference books than fittings.
4. Endeavor to study a number of high quality pieces in hand before buying – It always seems like a lot of “churn” in people’s collections are pieces they thought were great until they actually saw enough pieces to realise they weren’t. Books are good, but the images often omit a lot that you pick up on when you study the physical piece.
5. Try to purchase from reputable dealers, auction houses or fellow collectors where possible. eBay is full of crap – stay away! The Japanese auction sites (e.g. Yahoo) are good for hard to find books and some interesting tosogu appears from time to time. Try to buy fittings that have papers, this will help if you decide to re-sell them at a later date.
6. None of us are experts. Respect other opinions and always provide constructive criticism. There is always more to learn!
7. Never forget that you are just the custodian of these amazing items. Use gloves when necessary (e.g. kinko fittings) and handle them with care for future generations. Don’t clean anything unless you know what you’re doing and have sort the opinion of others.
8. After a period of time try and specialise into one area of study/collecting. Find out all you can about your chosen area and share your knowledge with fellow collectors. After that you can move on to something else.
9. It is OK to have a “catch and release” philosophy for study pieces, however never more than 6 items at any one time.
10. Collections should be comprised of 50% tsuba (the proportion of iron vs kinko is up to personal preference), 20% kozuka/kogai/sets, 15% menuki and 15% fuchi kashira. I like a good kozuka so perhaps this is higher than what others would have. Some people have a much higher percentage of tsuba, but I find more detail/complexity in some of the smaller fittings (trying to fit everything into a confined space).
11. Never, no matter how tempting, take apart an original koshirae to put the fittings ‘in a kiri box’. You are destroying a piece of history. Have someone restore the koshirae to its original glory instead. There are times when the tsuka is beyond repair, but try and preserve where possible.
12. If you’re unsure of the origin of a piece and it is of good quality then consider getting it papered by the NBTHK or NTHK. Even if they get it wrong then at least you might learn something about the school/artist.
13. Have your collection on display/easily accessible. Insure you collection, but don’t lock it away in a bank vault. Take sensible precautions at home (e.g. a good quality fire-proof safe), however remember that these items should be touched, admired and shown off at every opportunity. As Robert Haynes once said, “If you have to keep your collection in a bank vault, there has to be something wrong with collecting. In Europe I never see anything in private homes. I’m always trotting off to their bloody bank vault to see their collection. There is something profoundly, fundamentally wrong with that. Why collect something if you can’t enjoy it on a regular basis, interact with it?”.
You might also like to look at Keninchi Kokubo’s 10 rules of tsuba collecting – http://www.nihontocraft.com/Tsuba_Kokubo.html