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Sword show draws avid collectors

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
August 22, 2005

Japanese-sword enthusiasts hobnobbed with collectors yesterday in Burlingame, where the annual Token Kai sword show swung into town.

Katana aficionados from across the country gathered at the Marriott hotel throughout the weekend to see vendors’ latest finds and, in many cases, spend several thousand dollars on an authentic samurai weapon.

Lee Geiniman was offering dozens of different blades, including one dating back to the 14th century made by the famous swordsmith O-michi.

An oversized katana in Geiniman’s collection was custom-made for six-foot-eight-inch Saigo Takamori. Takamori was the foundation for the Katsuomoto character, whose soldiers capture Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai,” according to Geiniman.

Both swords carry a $15,000 price tag.

Geiniman, like many of the collectors at the Token Kai, scours gun and sword shows and flea markets to find unwanted treasures. He recently found a badly rusted blade at a flea market which will cost $3,500 to professionally polish, plus hundreds of dollars to replace the handle and tsuba, or crossguard.

Collecting is risky — sometimes what looks like a diamond in the rough turns out to be a cracked blade.

“Sometimes we only pay a little, and sell them for a lot,” Geiniman said. “Sometimes, we pay a lot and have to sell them for a little.”

Mark Jones started collecting Japanese swords 15 years ago after “catching the bug,” he said. He sells the decorative crossguards, to support his sword-collecting habit; he gets so attached to most of the blades he can’t bear to sell them.

To the Japanese, a sword must be at least 400 years old to be considered “koto,” or old. Swords made between 1600 and 1800 are “shinto,” or new; swords made after 1800 are “shin-shinto” — very new.

Most of the collectors who come to the Burlingame Token Kai each year are Westerners attracted to the history, workmanship and mystique of the weapons, Jones said. At the same time, hobbyists are drawn to all sorts of inscrutable items.

“Some people collect Pez dispensers,” Jones shrugged.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 22, 2005 at 9:17 PM

Posted in Burlingame

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