17th century Chinese saber guard
Dimensions

82 x 75 x 5.3 mm

Weight

105 grams

Origin

China

Materials

Iron, gold, silver

Dating

Circa 1600-1650

Provenance

From a Japanese collection

Price €5500, -

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Description

A very good Chinese saber guard, or dāo hūshǒu (刀護手). It has a beaded rim with gold overlay and raised scrolling arabesque motifs on the center panel in gold on the front, and silver on the reverse.

Top and bottom on both sides are decorated with a conch shell, a symbol of Buddhism that signifies the spreading of the teachings of the Buddha and the awakening from the slumber of ignorance.

Also incorporated into the designs are auspicious symbols in the form of treasures; They include rúyì scepters, axe heads, and stylized rhinoceros horns. All executed in the typical fashion of the 17th century.

The space around the tang opening on the front is decorated with stylized lotus petals, on the reverse a rectangular space is kept free of decor to accommodate the angular ferrule that these hilts had. 

The guard was at some point imported into Japan, where the tang opening was slightly altered to fit a Japanese blade.

 

Tokubetsu Hozon papers

In Japan a previous owner submitted the guard to shinsha at the NBTHK, the  Society for Preservation of Japanese Swords which runs the Tokyo Sword Museum. It passed with flying colors, and was granted the much coveted Tokubetsu Hozon papers, meaning "Especially worthy of preservation."

 

Tokubetsu Hozon papers on Chinese guard

 

The shinsha team classified the piece simply as "Nanban"; Southern Barbarian. The fact that these appraisals can only be done on Japanese-made items indicates that the team was most likely unaware of the Chinese origin of this piece.

 

Conclusion

A very good and early Chinese saber guard, which was probably once the possession of royalty or high-ranking nobility of the late Ming or early Qing. Very few such guards survived in China, but luckily, they were prized possessions among the Japanese and have been imported into Japan on several occasions. Thus, this piece finds us via this Japanese detour. It has probably been in Japan from around the 17th century until recently, which is why it is so very well preserved.

Attesting to its quality is the fact it was highly regarded even among Japanese experts of sword mounts, as demonstrated by the Tokubetsu Hozon papers.

 

Early Chinese saber guard
Early Chinese saber guard
Early Chinese saber guard
Early Chinese saber guard
Early Chinese saber guard

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With a golden damascened lock of the Indo-Portuguese type.

Price on request

Of pierced iron, elaborately cut with lotus petal border.

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