Built around a beautifully forged blade, in full polish, revealing a burl grain pattern.
forte 11.5 mm
middle 7 mm
at tip 4 mm
forte 64 mm
middle 82 mm
at tip 130 mm
17.5 cm from handle side of guard
Qing dynasty, China
Iron, steel, wood, cotton
Late 19th century
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An exceptionally large Chinese sword with a wide clipped tip with notched upper edge. It bears some resemblance to a sword referred to by Chinese collectors as yuntoudao (雲頭刀) or "cloud head sword", while keeping the general shape of the dadao (大刀):
Top: Typical profile of a typical dadao.
Middle: Profile of this blade.
Bottom: Typical profile of a yuntoudao
The gigantic blade is forge-folded with an inserted high carbon steel plate exposed from the edge. The edge section has the proper clamshell geometry you would expect from a sword made for actual use. The body of the steel shows lines of hard and mild steel resembling flowing water. Three grooves run near the spine, one going all the way to the notched backedge. At the back of the blade, fine even layering can be seen, indicating the construction is qiangang, or "inserted steel" where the high carbon plate is only exposed at the back.
The hilt consists of a very thick and heavy S-shaped guard that is both for protection as well as an attempt to bring some more of the weight to the hilt to balance this massive blade. The wooden grip is wrapped with a faded sand colored cotton cord. Ferrule and pommel are in the style of niuweidao type sabers of around 1850-1900 and I presume this piece is from around the same date. See for example our oxtail saber with Guangxu reign mark.
Thoughts on purpose
When presented with an unusually large sword, "execution sword" is the usual explanation. But when you look at photos of executions in China from the late 19th century to the 30's we see that there was hardly a standard weapon used for it. Executions were done effectively with standard pattern republican dadao that weigh around 800-1000 grams, but even quite surprisingly with short heavy double-edged swords. In Beijing, a special type of sword with a demon head pommel was sometimes used. All these show that you don't need an excessively large and heavy weapon for this purpose.
Another thing that comes to mind is that it was for training purposes. Especially large and heavy training implements were used by the military and civilian martials arts to build up strength for the real thing. These weapons like the oversized yanyuedao pole arms were usually blunt and only vaguely resembled their practical counterpart. This piece is forge-folded, with proper clamshell geometry that seems intended for use. It could be a training / cutting weapon used by a martial artist. Martial arts groups often made money by performing demonstrations of exceptional speed, strength, or other skills to impress an audience and the sword may have been used for such purposes.
Even though it's excessively large and heavy, its balance is quite decent and we also cannot rule out the idea that it was just made for a very big and strong person. Such outliers are present in most cultures. In the Netherlands we had "Grutte Pier", his sword is preserved in the Fries Museum and is 213cm long and weighs a staggering 6600 grams.
No dents or edge damage of any kind. Contours intact, no signs of excessive sharpening. There is some minor play in the guard due to shrinkage of the handle over time. All steel and iron parts have a deep, dark brown patina. Original peening at the pommel intact. Grip wrap cord stable, but as it is old cord, it is fragile.
An exceptionally large dadao, the grandness of which is not so much in its total length but more in the width and thickness of the blade. The blade is a decent piece of forge-folded steel, with inserted high carbon edge and with clamshell edge geometry that does seem made for the actual cut. A curious piece.
This piece compared to a standard pattern 19th century Qing military saber.
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A fine Chinese straightsword blade, of typical Qing form with a rather wide profile.
A rather well-made example of its type.
Used to move imperial orders from the emperor’s quarters to the recipient.
Made of heavy silk with gilt copper alloy mounts.
With staghorn grip finely carved with plum blossoms.