Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mum’s the Word!

Any collector of Japanese rifles is going to be aware that most were originally marked with the Imperial Chrysanthemum. The Chrysanthemum, or “mum” for short, was the symbol of the Japanese Emperor, and his stamp was placed on the receiver of any rifle destined for the army showing Imperial ownership of the firearm. After the war, many mums were ground off or defaced in some way. The reasons given by various sources vary, as do the timeframes in which wholesale grinding and defacing of mums occurred, but most agree it was a face saving gesture. As a result, most Japanese rifles in the U.S. no longer have the Chrysanthemum completely intact, making those that do highly sought out by collectors.

Because of the increase in value of a rifle with an intact mum, if you hit the gun auction sites, a lot of firearms will claim to have an “intact mum”, and are priced accordingly, but when you look at the pictures the mum is either ground, struck, or defaced in some other way. Generally I’d like to think that most of these auctions are a case of ignorance of terminology rather than malice. So in the interest of clearing the fog around the Imperial Chrysanthemum, I’ve put together this primer.

An Intact Mum is a mum that has not been ground, defaced, chiseled, or molested in any way. All of the petals and the circle at the center of the chrysanthemum should be clear. Proportions on the mum vary a little between arsenals as does the depth of the striking. When looking at an intact mum, ensure that the surface hasn’t been re-polished or re-blued as those could be evidence of a light striking being removed to inflate the value of the rifle. There are also individuals out there with a “mum stamp”, so there are a few fakes on the market – but not to the degree you see in German weaponry. Some examples of intact mums appear below.

An Over-Stamped Mum is a mum that is effectively intact, but has been over-stamped with an arsenal mark (like the Kokura mark) or a circle. Generally this was done with rifles that were removed from front-line service and transferred to training command. The mum on these rifles is not intact, nor should it be referred to as such. Some examples of over-stamped mums appear below.

A Defaced Mum is one that generally has several gouges carved into the mum. Some look like cold chisel marks, but they could have been done with the corner of a grinder as well. In some cases much of the mum is still visible – even if it is, the rifle does not command the value of a rifle with an intact mum. Another method used to deface the mum was peaning with a punch or hammer. Unfortunately I don’t have any picture examples of that particular method of defacement, but some examples of gouged mums appear below.

The Ground Mum is the most common type of mum removal. Many were ground completely so that no portion of the mum remains, but others were struck more lightly and you can see the outline of the mum. Regardless of how much of the mum is remaining, a ground mum is a ground mum. The value of the rifle will depend entirely on condition and rarity of that series and combination of features. Some examples of ground mums appear below.

Hopefully this guide is helpful in sorting through the various claims regarding Imperial Chrysanthemums on the various auction sites. Japanese rifles represent a very exciting area for collector and shooter alike. One other thing to consider before putting your money down, the Imperial Chrysanthemum appeared on rifles only; it did not appear on pistols. So if someone wants to sell you a Type 14 with a mum, chances are it’s been faked at some point.

Until next time!!!

1 comment:

boatbutter said...

Thanks for the post - I appreciate the info. My grandfather brought one back and it appears to have been "over stamped."