Sasano-sensei’s grades

In the April 10, 1997 Sotheby’s catalog the comments preceding the Phyllis Sharpe Memorial collection of early tsuba include the following:

“N.B. Masayuki Sasano always insisted that the ‘grading’ he gave in his hakogaki reflected his personal reaction to the tsuba, and was not an attempt to provide a universal quality rating system. His grades, as mentioned in the text which follows, are: Ka: Beautiful; Shu: Superb; Kei: Masterpiece.

These grades appear toward the bottom of his hakogaki to the right of his two seals.

His highest ranking, masterpiece looks like this:

Kessaku – masterpiece

I don’t know where the reading “kei” in the catalog comes from, the first character is normally read ketsu, or when combined with saku as above kessaku. It can also be translated as greatness or excellence (and can be used sarcastically to refer to “an amusing blunder”).

His middle ranking, superb:

Shusaku – superb

And the “bottom” grade ka:

Kasaku – Beautiful

Although the dictionary definitions of kasaku include “good work” and “honorable mention” which sound somewhat less enthusiastic. I’ve never seen a poor or uninteresting tsuba with a Sasano hakogaki, so I think beautiful is fair enough.

I agree with the catalog notes that this is a personal and subjective system. From what I’ve seen I’d guess that Sasano-sensei was thinking about the tsuba in comparison to others of their type or at least definitely not imposing a hierarchical view where some groups “outrank” others. The kessaku example at top is for a small nidai Akasaka guard, the shusaku is for a very small and simple yamagane ko-kinko tsuba with kiku and other stamps and the kasaku is from the Yagyu tsuba in the previous post.

1 thought on “Sasano-sensei’s grades”

  1. Hi Jim..

    Spoke to Haynes.. gosh he is buying everywhere.. amazing to see him so engaged and having so much fun… ??

    I have decided to go to SF… at least IF my folks are okay.. and as mentioned this has changed… and not for the good.. so…we will see.. I hope all the way around it works…

    I am so excited to see that you posted the P. Sharpe sale rankings by Sasano san… I am thrilled to have the ko-kinko from the sale with shakudo and gold which I think is fabulous and he ranked as masterpiece.. I appreciate how you pointed out that it was his opinion as to how things were or compared but in any case it is a great tribute to him that you mention you really have not seen tsuba or other fittings that are weak or poorly done… he certainly caused an enormous stir and still does.. by the by I did not buy the tsuba for that reason… I got it because that it was wonderful… it is small.. very old.. and well I made a bold move…I know that I showed it to you in C..

    Thankfully I have you to go to.. as your opinion mean a lot to me… and I have acted accordingly… thank you!




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