Canton style sword guard
Height & width

65 x 65 mm

Thickness

5 mm

Weight

72 grams

Origin

Probably Galle, Sri Lanka.

Materials

Iron, gold, shakudo.

Dating

Probably 18th century.

Use

Has been mounted.

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Introduction

Many Asian export sword guards, and later Japanese guards inspired by them, were modeled after the archetypical Chinese sword guard that was imported into Japan in some quantity in the 17th and 18th centuries. Such pieces were called Canton-gata or "Canton form", named after the port from which they seemed to come, although the type almost certainly originated in the north, Beijing and possibly even Shenyang. Among collectors nowadays the term "Canton tsuba" is common.


A Chinese sword guard of the 17th century.
The mother of the entire genre of kwanto-gata or "Canton-form" tsuba.

Description

A small and rather finely made Asian export sword guard. It pairs facing dragons that both reach for the same pearl. The pearl is cut loose from its surroundings, being able to move freely in its tiny compartment. At the base, between the two tails of the dragon is a rock, representing a sacred mountain. This is a motif most commonly seen on textiles, most notably Chinese official robes worn by the emperor, his officers, and mandarins. On either side is a stylized swastika, auspicious symbols in Asia.

The dragons are beautifully rendered with three-dimensional bodies moving through tendrils, undercut in no less than 12 places. Like the preceding guard it, too, was made with an aperture (hitsu-ana for the Japanese by-knife carries in the same scabbard with the sword, indicating that it was most likely also intended for the Japanese market.

A previous owner had a small shakudo lining added to one side of the opening, probably to make for better alignment with the scabbard he was using it with.

The delicateness of the carving suggests it was perhaps made in Galle, a VOC owned "factory" in Sri Lanka. They were probably commissioned to be taken to Japan as gifts.

An Asian export sword guard

Additional item content

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A nice example of a rare type of weapon from the Sinhalese arsenal.

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Products of Asian maritime trade in the 17th-18th centuries.

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A large circular Asian export sword guard with elaborate decor carved in relief on both sides.

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A chiseled iron sword guard depicting a Dutch ship with a figure on its stern.

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This guard, at first sight, appears very

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A robust Chinese or Vietnamese sword guard of rare form, probably imported into Japan by Dutch or Chinese merchants.

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