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$377,000 helmet tops Bonhams Arts of the Samurai Auction in New York
A Shinkai daisho with mounts by Inoe Shinkai, dated 1669.2 and 1669.8. Sold for $ 87,500 inc. premium. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams.
NEW YORK, NY.- An impressive iron kawari kubuto, or "eccentrically shaped helmet," was the top lot at Bonhams Arts of the Samurai auction held on October 8, realizing $377,000 after a lengthy telephone bidding war. Shaped like a conch shell, this Edo period (18th century) gem is likely an allusion to the traditional battle call made by sounding a conch shell horn. The final price achieved was more than six times the helmet's pre-auction estimate.

"The most remarkable samurai warrior helmets reference history and folklore in their design," explained Jeff Olson, Director of the Japanese Department at Bonhams New York. "The conch shell kawari kubuto is a fine example. The design and craftsmanship are truly superb. We are really seeing the market respond to quality."

Institutions and private collectors from over 20 countries participated in the auction. Interest was concentrated in the US and Europe, with Japan, China, and Hong Kong also well represented. Attendees filled the gallery, although telephone bidders took home almost all of the top lots, with notable exceptions going to those participating live online. The auction was 80% sold by value.

Armor was a top performer in the auction overall. An orange and purple-laced haramaki (chest armor) also sold for more than six times its pre-auction estimate, bringing $341,000. The suit was complete with all its original, Edo-period accoutrements, including an exceptional kabuto by helmet-maker Masanobu. Complete with fine detailing rendered in precious materials by master craftsmen, the suit is a rare example of perfectly matched armor made for a daimyo (military lord).

The auction's sizable selection of Samurai swords and sword fittings sold briskly, with a 17th-century daisho by Inoe Shinkai realizing $87,500. An 11th-century Ko-bizen tachi by Masazane, with tang intact, formerly in the collection of American Colonel Dean Hartley, sold for $47,500.

Bonhams next Japanese art auction will take place in March 2014.

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