Chinese fangshi saber
Overall length

82 cm

Blade length

65.5 cm

Blade thickness

Base 9 mm
Middle 5 mm
Start backedge 4 mm
Near tip 3 mm

Blade width

Base 34.5 mm
Middle 32 mm
Start backedge 30 mm
Near tip 22 mm

Weight

685 grams

Point of balance

13.5 cm from guard

Origin

China, Qing dynasty

Materials

Iron, steel, brass, wood, silk, ray-skin

Dating

Mid 1800's

Sold

Interested?
Anything similar for sale?

Contact me

Description

A rather nice Chinese military saber in fāngshì (方式) or "angular style" mounts.

The quality blade is of forge folded construction with tough steel layers protecting a hard high-carbon steel edge. The supporting layers exhibit a fine wood grain pattern. The blade has two well-defined grooves on either side, a wide center groove and a narrower upper groove. The upper groove terminates to make way for a back bevel near the tip. The steel inside the grooves displays a nice burl grain pattern, indicating that the grooves were cut and ground instead of hammered into shape. The spine of the saber has a well-defined and perfectly centered ridge line, further emphasizing the quality of the blade.

The fully original hilt of the angular style has attractive mounts that are a step above the norm in quality for this period. Made of thick brass, all mounts are chiseled in relief with motifs of lotuses. The lotus is seen as a symbol of the path towards enlightenment as its seeds develop in the murky depths of a pond, slowly growing towards the light and once emerging on the surface it reveals a pristine flower. The blade side of the guard is more subtly engraved, but also with lotuses. The wooden grip retains its original silk grip wrap and wrist lanyard.

Scabbard, also of classic angular style, with a set of mounts matching those of the hilt. All original except the endpiece. Scabbard has considerable losses on the ray-skin, I decided to keep it "as is" for the purist, but Philip Tom can cover the scabbard in new material if desired.

Condition

Blade in new polish to reveal construction. Speckles of pitting had to remain because they were too deep. Some minor edge nicks, one larger one from contact with another blade. Another chip near the spine, probably also from contact. A crack in one of the scabbard bands. Scabbard with much loss to the ray-skin. Scabbard chape is a replacement, cast off the mouthpiece by a professional metal restorer. The hilt is all original, in near perfect condition and with original peening intact.

Attribution

The fāngshì or "angular style" of mounting with rectangular cross-section hilt and scabbard was most popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and were all but replaced by the round style by the 19th century. This piece however probably dates from the second half of the 19th century and is clearly a revival piece of this earlier style.

We see this adherence to old fashioned styles mostly among Manchus. For example Manchu prince Chun of the first rank, Aisin Gioro I-Huwan is depicted several times with his fāngshì saber.

Prince Chun with his saber

Aisin Gioro I-Huwan on horseback with his fāngshì style saber.
Unknown photographer, possibly Liang Shitai. 1870's-1880's.

Chinese officer saber

 

Prince Chun with his fangshi saber

Aisin Gioro I-Huwan with his fāngshì style saber. 
Unknown photographer, possibly Liang Shitai. 1870's-1880's.

Also known as Yixuan, he was father of the Guangxu emperor and grandfather of the last emperor, Puyi. He passed away January 1st, 1891. I-Huwan was a Manchu of the old school, favoring substance over show. In his younger years he lead the firearms division of the imperial guards, later in life he would be in charge of modernizing the imperial navy. Yihuan always tried to avoid attention but nevertheless got showered with titles and priviliges throughout his career. His titles allowed him to carry a richly decorated saber of the round style from 1872 onwards, yet in these images he seems to carry a more humble saber of the angular style instead.

Considering the overall quality of the piece, I believe this saber was also most likely carried by a Manchu officer. At least someone with the means to buy a high-quality piece, and with a taste for weapons styles from the height of the Qing's power.

Conclusion

A beautiful example of a fāngshì revival style saber. It is a few notches above most sabers of the same period in terms of quality of construction of both mounts and blade. Despite the ornamentation on its mounts, it is a fully fledged fighting saber with good weight and excellent handling characteristics. The mounts are also considerably thicker than most saber mounts of the same period, which otherwise tend to be quite flimsy. It is the sort of saber that a Manchu of some means, but who still adhered to the traditional warrior ethos, would have preferred.

Additional item content
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style
Antique Chinese officer saber in the angular style

Do you have anything for sale?

I might be interested in buying it.

Contact me

Built around a beautifully forged blade, in full polish, revealing a burl grain pattern.

€3800,-

A fine Chinese straightsword blade, of typical Qing form with a rather wide profile.

€5000,-

A rather well-made example of its type.

€1500,-

Used to move imperial orders from the emperor’s quarters to the recipient.

Price on request

Introduction The Manchu rulers of the Qing dyna

€475,-

Made of heavy silk with gilt copper alloy mounts.

€2000,-
ARTICLE
Markings on Chinese swords
Most markings are found on military edged weapons, usually in the f...
Read the article
ARTICLE
Glossary of Chinese saber terminology
An overview of Chinese saber terminology as found in Chinese texts....
Read the article
ARTICLE
Military sabers of the Qing dynasty
According to Chinese symbolism, the strength and martial spirit of ...
Read the article
ARTICLE
Spears of the Qing dynasty
Introduction In this article I highlight a number of spears used b...
Read the article