by Jim Kurrasch
Shortly after I started collecting nihontô I decided that I would not openly display my blades in my home. I figured that if I came home and found that some little (or big) 16 year old punk was using one of my 400 year old blades to chop on trees, I may be “forced” to kill him. So I figured out all the available hiding place in my home, and stashed my blades all over the house.
Then one time when I had a emergency hospitalization, of long duration (open heart surgery), I was informed that someone had tried to break into my house (I was living alone, and far from family). I had to decide what was more important my health or my swords, so against orders I discharged myself. I drove myself home (100+ miles), purchased a gun safe put it into a closet. Bolted in into place. Put my swords and guns into it, and returned to the hospital where I was informed that they did not want me back. Hell, you just can’t keep some of these Doctors happy.
So what do you do to safeguard your swords, and just how safe are they? If you can afford a bank vault it is probably the best (but hard to view your blades). If you use a well made gunsafe that is pretty good but it is just a start. Gunsafes help protect from thieves and unauthorized use. They give very little help in a fire. About their only value in a fire is by giving a bit more distance from the fire, some heat sink effect, and the safe may keep the house from smashing the swords when it collapses.
Is this good enough? Well how big will the fire be. Is your home all wood construction, wood frame with plaster walls, concrete block, or poured cement? What is the home interior around your storage area like? Do you have flammable carpets, lots and lots of furniture, and tons of assorted junk? Do you keep your ammo supply in or next to the gunsafe? All the prior things increase the chance that your blades will die a horrible death if your home catches on fire. I have one sword that had been in a fire. The prior owner sent it to Japan, for a polish and refitting. By the metal you know that it was once a very beautiful Kotô blade, but now can only see a faint shadow of what was once a hamon. And he apparently lost several valuable blades.
You can use a fire safe, but they tend to be expensive and small. They also are reported to increase the chance for rust (this may be because they do not breath very well). What is called a paper safe does little for thief protection. They are easily carried away or broken into. Paper safes also tend to be too small to keep anything other than tantô and fittings in. And in the catagory of paper safes are insulated file cabinets. These can be fairly large, and fairly expensive.
So how can we improve our gunsafes. I like to place my safe as close to the plasterboard walls as possible. You can also put plasterboard inside them. This takes up space but increases the fire protection. Bolt your safes down and / or fill them with everything non-flammable and heavy that you own. Keep flammable objects away from the safe and that goes Double for ammo, put it in the garage or at the far end of the house.
And then there are safety deposit boxes at your bank. They really are not that expensive. My bank rents a 3″ X 5″ X 2′ box (outside dimensions) for $25 per year. That is big enough to hold 2 or 3 tantô or ko-wakizashi and maybe some fittings also. The banks also have larger boxes, which rent for more. I pay $100 per year for a fairly big box. But you may have to search to find a bank with boxes that hold a katana , and no-dachi or naginata cause even more problems. Admittedly there is the inconvenience of having to go to the bank to see your blades. But you probably visit your bank fairly frequently anyway, so plan ahead. But the price is cheaper than a rider on your insurance policy. And I feel that a true collector has a obligation to protect his swords for future generations.
How about when you are traveling? 13 years I bought one of those neat leather sword bags when visiting Japan. Actually to a knowledgeable thief this says “Steal Me”. Gun cases are even worse, since even stupid thieves know what they are. Also guns are primo items for thieves, since untraceable guns are the weapon of choice for criminals. Thinking about this lately I figured that one thing that would help the survival rate (for the sword, you don’t count) in case of accident would be double walled stove pipe. It will absorb and distribute much of the force, as well as the heat of the flames. Also who would bother to steal stove pipe?
If you have something of real importance what then. Well I figure that a piece of 2 or 3″ steel pipe with screw on ends, and your name and address stamped into it would do pretty well. You might not survive the plane wreck but if the searchers find the pipe they will be able to return it to your widow. Please keep in mind what is really important.