Collecting swords a growing and pricey hobby

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 18, 2013

Driven by the popularity of movies such as The Last Samurai and The Lord Of The Rings, sword collecting has been forging a growing following in Singapore.

And it is not just the number of collectors which is on the rise but also their willingness to splurge, according to retailers which bring in these items.

Caesars director Diana Phee, whose firm sells Japanese swords, knives and replica guns at its two branches here, said she has seen sword sales go up by 10 to 15 per cent year on year over the last decade. On average, a few thousand swords - ranging from movie replicas to authentic models made by craftsmen - are sold every year.

In the last few years, the retailer has been bringing in hand-crafted swords and those with more elaborate designs. They are worth as much as $15,000. Ten years ago, the most expensive models did not exceed $600, she added.

"A lot of customers are now buying more expensive types as they understand their value," she told The Straits Times. "We now have easily 200 to 300 different designs."

Most of Caesars' customers are 25 to 40-plus years old and usually become interested in the hobby because of movies like Tom Cruise's vehicle The Last Samurai and the popularity of anime here, she explained.

Sheares Marketing, another major sword retailer here, declined comment when contacted. But The Straits Times understands that the store brings in swords that cost from $5,000 to $50,000.

On Monday, a man who was dressed partly like a Japanese martial art exponent took a samurai sword on board an MRT train before being arrested at Victoria Street near Bugis station.

Samurai swords must be "kept in a dwelling house and are not to be carried in any public place without any lawful purpose", said the Singapore Police Force on its website.

The site also stated that those who bring in swords have to apply for an import licence. They may be required to take the sword to a police station for inspection before the licence can be issued.

Caesars said that shops also have to adhere to strict procedures, including sending the items to the authorities for approval before putting them up for sale.

Stores are also not allowed to sell such items to anyone below 18, while customers have to leave their personal details, including their contact and identification card numbers, when they buy the collectibles, said Ms Phee. She added that some of the swords brought in have been made blunt.

Mr Tan Y.J., who bought his first sword for $428 yesterday because of his interest in the American TV series Heroes, in which one of its characters wields a samurai sword, was asked to fill up a purchase registration form at the store. "I was advised not to carry it around in public places," said the 40-year-old, who works in the IT industry.

Avid sword collector John Lee, 38, who imports his own swords, usually gets Caesars to bring in the more expensive ones. The investment firm director, who has spent about $750,000 on more than 250 swords over the past seven years, said getting them through a retailer saves him the hassle of bringing in his items only to have them confiscated.

"The laws here are so strict compared with countries like the US," he said. "I've encountered incidents where the items I bring in get destroyed by the police."

Additional reporting by Lee Jian Xuan and Priscilla Goy

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 18, 2013

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