Art of the samurai comes to life in Sworders’ Nov. 2 auction of Dennison Collection

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STANSTED MOUNTFICHET, U.K. – The art of the samurai takes center stage at Sworders on Thursday, November 2nd. As part of the British firm’s autumn Asian art offering, a total of 150 lots of Japanese arms and armor will be sold for the family of the late Peter Raymond Dennison. 

Japanese gusoku (composite armor). Estimate: £1,000-£2,000
Japanese gusoku (composite armor). Estimate: £1,000-£2,000

A former marine mechanic with a deep interest in historical warfare, Dennison was a collector of Edo and Meiji period weaponry for many years and a well-known face in the collecting community. His wish was that the collection should be sold at auction, which is how most came into his possession.

Many of the pieces in the sale date from the Edo period (1603-1868), when the city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) became the center of Tokugawa shōgunate power. Although it was a time of peace, it was also the era of Bushidō – The Way of the Warrior – when moral and military values were learned and maintained by swordsmanship. The word samurai derives from the term meaning “one who serves.” 

The core of the collection is an array of 17th-19th century Japanese blades, each made by folding and hammering layers of high and low carbon steel. There are some 15 examples of the wakizashi (side-inserted sword), which were worn in pairs from the sash at the side. Additionally, there are 19 katana, whose classic curved, slender, single-edged blade is considered among the finest cutting weapons in military history; and more than 30 varieties of polearms and spears: the naginata, omi yari and su yari. They carry estimates ranging from £80-£120 ($97-$145) to £1,500-£2,500 ($1,820-$3,030).

With Japan at peace from the early 17th century, much of the costume and accessories of the samurai were used for parades and martial arts rather than on the battlefield. Japanese armor, in particular, was anachronistic, and still made in the centuries-old fashion with the o-yoroi (cuirass and skirt) formed of flexible plates once designed to repel a bow and arrow.

There are several good gusoku (composite armors) in the Dennison collection that date from either the end of the Edo period or the beginning of the Meiji restoration that would ultimately abolish the samurai class. The famous Haitōrei Edict of 1876 ended the ancient samurai privilege of bearing swords.

A near full suit typically comprises the o-yoroisode (shoulder guards), kabuto (helmet with neck guard), datemono (crest), kote (sleeve armor) and haidate (thigh armour) with kusari (chainmail) and a menpo (face mask) with yodarekake (throat guard). Hugely decorative, 15 different sets are offered with guides from £1,000-£3,500 ($1,215-$$4,245). 

Dennison was also interested in tsuba and other sword fittings, as well as Japanese matchlock rifles. Examples from both categories are included in the sale.

For more information or to view the catalog and sign up to bid, please visit Sworders online at


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Elizabeth Lardner

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Editors: Catalogue may be viewed here:

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