What is a sword worth?

This is another immensely difficult issue I struggle with. How do you put a price on a sword? Do you calculate hours, days, weeks invested? What about the time spent not actually in the smithy but „just“ thinking about a project, making sketches, looking at originals? What about the time spent training sword fighting? All that and more factors into the end product.

Just as important: what is the image you want to portray as a maker? I am just starting out and trying to find myself so undoubtably this is going to change over time but I already have an idea about the direction I want to travel in.

As a new guy, it would be a sensible thing to talk to those already further down the path. People who have been at this longer, who know from experience how things work out and where the dangers lie. So I did. Among many other things, I became most acutely aware of one particular danger: under-pricing your own work.

There are many reasons why someone might do that, especially in the beginning. As someone starting out, you are still learning, haven‘t made a name for yourself yet and you feel the dire need to „sell“, to become known. Whatever the costs. Because those costs are dire. It‘s not just the obvious financial aspect. In my particular case, that‘s not even a major one as I am not doing this to sustain a family (or even just myself). The more grievous aspect is what impact it has on your image as a maker. A wise sword maker told me: „You don‘t want to be known as the guy that gives people a good deal, you want to be known as the one that makes good swords“.

Those two aren‘t exclusive but „good deal“ will not be what most people think when confronted with my prices or the prices of the other high end sword makers. Though to be frank, they are good deals considering the hours put into them. Don‘t ever for a second believe the likes of Peter Johnsson, Jake Powning, etc are making top dollars. Quite the opposite. Their hourly wages are absolutely on the low end by industry standards. And that‘s despite the long training it takes to deliver work on that level.

One thing the sword community very often fails to grasp is how much a good sword should cost. There is little understanding for craftsmen asking several thousand dollars for a piece. Instead they hear things like „my 200$ Hanwei is just as good functionally, why should I ever pay that much?“ Or „A sword is a weapon, nothing more, as long as it works, that‘s all that matters.“ Not even going into the stuff like „Ha, that price is ridiculous, you are out of your mind.“

I‘m not going to tell these people they‘re wrong. But they need to realise that that is just one opinion. One I do not share. There is so much more to a sword, it cannot be condensed to the bare functionality. Even so, if you believe a Hanwei or VA (or even Albion, ATrim or A&A) performs on the same level as a 7000$ piece made by one of the very best modern sword makers, you are missing a big aspect of the picture. It‘s not as simple as saying „both cut tatami just fine“. A really good sword tells a story, has a certain aspect of aliveness that absolutely impacts functionality. The degree to which it does that may vary but it is absolutely there.

And of course, there is the aesthetic aspect, something that is inseperable from the sword‘s functionality. Graceful lines and shapes don‘t only have an aesthetic appeal, they have a definite impact on how a sword feels in hand.

To circle back to the sword community… the lack of understanding for the worth of a high quality sword has a direct, immensely negative impact on the makers and therefore, the community itself. Many sword makers have been ruined because they felt the necessity to price their products so low that they would appeal to the community. Especially several US makers can attest to that. They are only gradually (if at all) recovering from that and gingerly starting out to price their products higher.

The gist of what I realized when discussing this with my „senior collegues“ was that there is a way to counter the trend towards ever cheaper „best deal“ swords… custom makers need to resist the temptation to under-price themselves for the sake of selling one more piece or maybe selling a piece faster. The market of hand-made custom swords is very small. If someone scoffs at the idea of paying several thousand euros for a sword, he simply isn‘t in the market for one. That is fine. Not everything is for everybody. But if someone accepts to pay 2000 Euros for a sword, he might also understand why the maker needs to raise that price to 3000 Euros or whatever he needs to price it at to survive and not hurt the craft.

One specific aspect of my own situation is that I do not need to sell my work to survive. I need to sell it to maybe get an electric kiln or some other piece of equipment but that is a luxury problem. So it would be highly illogical to try to price my work „to sell“. I need to price my work as what I think it is worth.

If I don‘t, that has several negative consequences. First, it is not compatible with my philosophy. I want to strive for excellence. I want to do that with the customer, for the customer. We both pour a lot into this and there must be no short-cuts. I may not be doing this full time but I do it professionally. That means I need to ask professional prices.

Secondly, low pricing has an impact on my collegues that need to sustain themselves and a family with the craft. Offering low prices just because I can hurts them and that is the last thing I want to do. The effect low prices have on the community and the craft have already been discussed above. If we want sword making to remain a craft worth pursuing, we need to think long-term. Undercutting prices creates a flawed idea of what professional work is worth. That is immensely damaging and will lead to the decline of the craft, hurting precisely those people who can bring the craft forward.

To come to an end here… I am raising my prices and I will continue to do so as I make further progress. I do not expect everybody to understand, much less support it but it is an inevitable step in my opinion.

You can find the pricing details on my website.

2 thoughts on “What is a sword worth?

  1. I am glad you enjoyed it. I believe you know what I’m talking about, being a maker yourself.

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