Unusual alphabet tsuba

70 x 65 x 3.9 mm


86 grams


Iron, gold, silver, copper


Possibly Hirado



16th century


Collection of James L. McElhinney

Price on request

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A peculiar and probably rather old Japanese tsuba.  It is of octagonal form, with kozuka-hitsu-ana for the hilt of a kogatana and udenuki-ana, which are small circular openings for the attachment of a leather wrist cord. This is a feature primarily seen in the 16th century.

The facing side is carved in shallow relief, with a cloud head in the top and lowered panels with raised abstract plant forms left and right, overlaid with gold and silver. In the bottom is an unusual design element that I cannot place.

The reverse has an engraved border with stylized cloud shapes in the top, overlaid in silver. The main plate is engraved with capital letters from the Western alphabet:

"A B C D E 



Q R S T"


The design gives the impression of a plate with lettering that was later turned into a tsuba, but the placement of the lower Q R S T following the contours of the bottom part of the tsuba somewhat betray that they were part of the intended design.

A highly unusual piece, probably made by a maker who got his hands on a document that explained the Western alphabet and decided to make something exotic with it.

The copper sekigane (inserts in the tang opening) and the punch marks around it indicate the tsuba was once fitted to a sword, probably a wakizashi or a large tantō. It is interesting to note that being mounted, the Western script would be on the blade's side, and out of sight from the viewer when the sword was worn.

Unusual alphabet tsuba
Unusual alphabet tsuba
Unusual alphabet tsuba
Unusual alphabet tsuba
Unusual alphabet tsuba
Unusual alphabet tsuba

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I might be interested in buying it.

Contact me

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