New York—With impressive results for Samurai swords and armor, the Bonhams October 16 Arts of the Samurai sale proves Samurai culture has lasting appeal. Absentee, telephone and online bidders were particularly well-represented, revealing interest in this specialized field reaches far beyond the usual perimeters of the art market. Bidders from the US predominated, doubtlessly drawn to the sale by Bonhams Madison Avenue window display of Samurai armor, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition celebrating curator Bashford Dean and the creation of the museum's Arms and Armor department. That said, the UK, Europe, Japan and Hong Kong also vied for success.
As Bonhams Japanese Specialist Caroline Gill sees it, Samurai arts occupy a unique space that appeals directly to individual connoisseurs, both established and emerging. This was particularly evident with the armor on auction – every piece of armor Bonhams offered sold after competitive bidding, almost exclusively to private collectors interested in integrating the esthetics and history of these pieces into their personal spaces. For this reason, these thrilling examples attract lots of attention when they come to market. An 18th century suit of armor laced in orange with a Muromachi period helmet by Yoshisada was not only the top armor lot, but also the oldest example included in the auction. The stunning and complete suit, with its striking orange lacing, brought $43,750, easily exceeding its high estimate of $35,000. The sale's cover lot, a Myochin school iron eccentrically shaped helmet (kawari kabuto) from the 18th century also did very well. The remarkable helmet, referencing a mythical kappa or tengu (mischievous Shinto spirit creatures thought to inhabit the human realm) achieved $37,500, versus a pre-sale estimate of $20,000-$30,000.
While the armor featured in the sale capitalized on the tremendous private interest, the auction's formidable collection of swords appealed primarily to the most knowledgeable of arms collectors and dealers. Bidders interested in both blades and Japanese arms flocked to the diverse selection. As Ms. Gill explains, "Arms appreciation is an intensely academic pursuit, and it takes complex understanding of the field to truly evaluate any given piece."
Happily, Bonhams was able to please the most discerning individuals and trade representatives with the high-quality swords on offer. The auction's top lot, an extremely rare 14th century Sekishu Juyo katana by Naotsuna from the Nanbokucho period, in excellent condition and featuring a lively temper line, sold for an impressive $134,500. But it was not exclusively six-figure swords that attracted attention. Selling at 2.5 times its high estimate, a later Mihara katana with mounts from the Muromachi period also brought a notable result at $20,000. According to Bonhams Director of Japanese Works of Art, Jeff Olson, "Samurai swords will always hold their allure. With their unique construction, distinctive steel tempering and composition, they have always been highly prized for both efficacy in combat and their physical beauty."
Enthusiasts can look forward to more art of Samurai in Bonhams upcoming Japanese Works of Art sale, scheduled for March of 2013.
To view the full auction, please visit bonhams.com.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and appraisal services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com