Hi Guys (and maybe gals?),
A couple years ago I wrote a short note on another forum for a few fellows who were each interested in purchasing a single example of an IJA Type 95 NCO sword. Primarily collectors of Third Reich militaria, they felt a nice wall hanger would be a welcome addition to their collections. I hope this thread will also prove useful to some who have an interest, as I do, in this type of sword.
The Type 95 sword, also just know as the NCO sword, is visually similar to an Officer sword but is user friendly and much less expensive. In fact a nice example will cost 700-800 USD at time of this writing.
Authorized for production in 1935 and into production in 1937, they first appeared with copper tsuka (handle) and thick (11 mm) brass tsuba (hand guard). These early models are scarce, quite desirable and I'm sorry to say I can't show you a photo of my own as I don't have one. Hopefully I'll be able to rectify that situation in time. Next in the line of development was a version with an aluminium tsuka and thick (11 mm) brass tsuba. That was followed by a model with aluminium tsuka and thinner (9 mm) brass tsuba and eventually, in mid 1941, an aluminium tsuka and iron tsuba. Late war versions of the Type 95 can be found with wooden tsuka and are poorly constructed in comparison to those that preceded them in the development line.
During that time period the method of securing the swords in their scabbards also changed from the initial top latch version to a side latch in the end. All NCO swords are serial number (Arabic) matched between scabbard and sword.
One of the great things about NCO swords is that they are completely machine made and will withstand the rigours of a few whirls around the man room. You and your friends can handle them without fear of destroying a centuries old masterpiece. Just give the sword a wipe down with a clean cloth after it's been handled and a very (did I mention very?) light coat of sewing machine oil on the blade every few months to keep it as good as the day you bought it. Alternatively you can coat it from head to toe with Renaissance Wax. For those unfamiliar with the product Ren Wax, as it's often referred to, it is a micro crystalline wax used as a preservative by museums. Renaissance Wax was originally formulated in the British Museum research laboratories in the early 1950s. It is now manufactured solely by Picreator Enterprises Ltd. but widely available in most countries.
Some of the more specific questions I've received about NCO swords pertain to their configuration changes over time. The photos will hopefully display the major points of interest and I'll be pleased to address specific questions should any come to mind.
Of the eight army arsenals active in the war only Kokura, Tokyo First and Nagoya were involved in the Type 95 program. Kokura Arsenal administered the program although they did not directly supervise nor produce any of the Type 95 swords. It is believed that about 1944 Kokura relinquished control of the program to the other two mentioned arsenals.
One way to tell a Nagoya Arsenal blade is to check the serial number. It should be read with the cutting edge upward as opposed to a Tokyo First Arsenal which has serial numbers stamped in such a way as to be read when blade cutting edge is down.
The other clues as to the maker of an individual sword are to be found on the fuchi, at least in the early years before the fuchi material was changed to iron. Viewed with the tip of the blade pointing down, one will find a series of three stampings on a fuchi. The one on the left is the Corporate logo (of which there were 6) of the group making the sword within the arsenal. The center stamping is the arsenal (2 possible) inspection mark or the Army Inspection Unit In Seki (1) mark. The last is the Arsenal identification stamp of which there are 3. Why three you ask? Good question as only two arsenals produced these swords. Well, Kokura sometimes put their Arsenal stamp on some fuchi so the sword will bear an inspection mark from either Tokyo or Nagoya and the addition of the Kokura Arsenal stamp indicates it was produced under their administration.
I will soon post some photos depicting such stampings to this thread.
There are, unfortunately, both poor and good reproductions of these items on the market, as there are of all other things in the hobby so some care must be taken when evaluating a purchase. However, the vast majority available in the US are authentic.
Now, before I conclude the written portion of this little article I want to make it clear that while I know some things about these swords I'm not an authority on them in any sense of the word. Much of what I have learned about these swords came from fellow collectors and reference books, in particular Jim Dawson's outstanding work entitled "Swords of Imperial Japan 1868-1945 Cyclopedia Edition". The rest came from hands on inspection of swords in my own collection. As mentioned at the start I hope this is of interest to some of you.