Japanese Sword Guards, decoration and ornament in the collection of Georg Oeder of Dusseldorf 1916

This is a quick review of the 2017 partial reprint and translation of the famous Oeder collection catalog.

There are a number of print on demand versions of early fittings books available these days including this one from Blurb. Oeder put together one of the better early European collections and his original catalog is one of the hardest to find.

The cover of my original, tape repairs by a previous owner. A user rather than book collector copy.

I haven’t seen an original catalog come up for sale recently, but the last I heard they were into four figures. There is a 2011 facsimile edition that I also haven’t seen recently, but they used to sell for around $200. That version reproduces the entire original book with text in German.

This 2017 book is not a facsimile. It leaves out the kodogu and focuses only on the illustrated tsuba. The original catalog has descriptions of many tsuba that are not illustrated. This one is a bit of a trade off, but it would have been more work to translate those entries and more paper to print them. Most collectors will probably not miss reading about the unseen guards.

A portrait from the 2017 book.

The collection was auctioned after Oeder’s death. I’m not clear about the details, but it was then known to be in Berlin until it disappeared at the end of the second world war. A mystery.

From the 2017 book

There are 214 tsuba illustrated and the images are about 2.5 inches wide on the page. The paper quality is typical of POD and there is some show through of the images on the opposite side of the page, although it is not as noticeable in use as it is under the lights here. The bent text is because I did not squash the binding for the photo. The quality of the images is quite good and the translations read well.

Here are a couple of the same illustrations from the original edition:

The 1916 source page

The page layouts don’t match exactly because the content is different, and this is not a problem. The original illustrations are a bit sharper as expected. The original text is not hard to navigate, but the translation is certainly nice if English is your language. The binding of my original is quite fragile and it sheds particles and threatens to fall apart whenever I use it, so I find myself using the new version for casual browsing instead. I’m glad to have access to the original when I want it for the missing material or more detailed images, but I’d be hard pressed to argue for why it’s a must-have now that this reprint is easily available.

In addition to the catalog images there is an introductory essay that is a good read, but pretty typical of western material of that time. There is also a second mini-catalog at the end:

Speaks for itself, I think

If I heard of this sale catalog before, I forgot about it, but the provenance is beyond impressive. The pieces aren’t at the same level as the Oeder collection and the photos are apparently upscaled from small originals, so the image quality isn’t great:

Page from the second catalog

Annotations by the editor help to make the descriptions more informative. It’s an interesting piece of history and maybe someone will find out that he has a piece once owned by Archduke Ferdinand. Hope you have better luck.

So, bottom line for the student of tsuba – an absolute no brainer purchase at the $30-40 prices found on eBay. Even better, right now there’s one new copy for sale on Amazon for $4.09 and a few others at around $15. I don’t know about the internals of this business and don’t have a stake in it, but seems like a good opportunity to add much to the library for very little.