The only set of its type known to me in both private and museum collections.
100mm x 54mm x 17mm. 2mm thick plate. 82 grams.
53mm x 30mm x 18mm. 2mm thick plate.
289mm x 15mm x 3mm. With bands 80 grams.
62mm x 51mm x 17.5mm. 2mm thick plate. 50 grams.
44mm x 29mm x 29mm. 2mm thick plate. 33 grams.
31mm x 18mm
Qing dynasty, China.
Copper alloy, gold
Second half 18th century
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An antique set of scabbard fittings for a Chinese saber, probably second half of the 18th century. The set is in the so-called yuanshi (圓式) “round style".1 This style emerged in the mid 18th century and was originally designed for certain princely ranks and elite units like the jianruiying. As the dynasty progressed, desirability for these tricked down until it became the standard style for military sabers in the 19th century.
18th century yuanshi fittings are rare, and usually stand out in their design and execution being more varied, more artistic and finer than the bulk of the 19th century work. By the mid 19th century, yuanshi was reduced to just a small number of standard patterns.
This set of scabbard mounts is made of a copper alloy. The contours of mouthpiece, endpiece and suspension bands are still far from the 19th century standardization with wild forms with waves and "cloud collar" motifs. The pieces were engraved by fine chiseling in old designs of scrolling vines and lotus flowers. The lotus was significant across buddhist Asia because it represents the path to enlightenment: Its seed grows a stem from murky depths, slowly growing towards the light and ultimately producing a pristine flower above the surface. The mounts were fire-gilt, mostly the gold is now left in the engravings.
The suspension bar exhibits fine pierced work that is typical for 18th century work, with a multitude of crossing tendrils to support the suspension loop.
The set comes with an associated gilt bronze pommel with the same lotus flower decoration. It is also of the appropriate shape to match the scabbard mounts. It exhibits a transitional form between the typical fangshi pommel and the later Qing yuanshi in the form of a flattened tangerine.
A reconstruction of what the fully mounted saber once probably looked like.
Medium. Overall wear and losses to the gold. Joints of the suspension bar and suspension bands are glued, but can be easily reversed. See pictures.
There is a saber in the Metropolitan Museum (accession number 36.25.1473a,b with somewhat comparable mounts, which was described in detail in Philip Tom's Some Notable Sabers of the Qing Dynasty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This saber is also believed to date from late 18th century.
Notes to description
1. Alternatively known as fangzhuang (圓裝) or "round dress under some Chinese collectors.
2. Philip M.W. Tom; Some Notable Sabers of the Qing Dynasty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 36, 2001, pages 207-222.
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