A royal sword, probably from the Wasi kingdom in present-day Sichuan province.
Base 5 mm
Middle 5 mm
5 cm from tip 3 mm
Base 27 mm
Middle 23 mm
5 cm from tip 13 mm
40 mm from guard
Eastern Tibet / Jinchuan
Iron / steel, brass, copper, wood, leather, coral, turquoise
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A very rare type of dagger that originates from the borderlands of Eastern Tibet. The blade of classic Tibetan dagger form, gradually tapering over its entire length towards a sharp point. The blade is forged with hairpin laminations, with alternating bands of "male" and "female" iron/steel.
The hilt has a large pommel made of alternating layers of iron, copper, and brass, as also seen on the swords of eastern Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh and some daggers of Western Sichuan. Original pommel peening remains intact.
The grip is strongly waisted, covered with ray-skin. The guard a small silver cup-guard of quadrilobe form with a stylized lotus petal border.
There are two corals and two turquoises set in the pommel, and the waisted grip section has five ornaments consisting of a combination of two stones and one corals or two corals and one stone each.
The scabbard is made of a classic brass U-frame that holds the scabbard wood and a center decorative panel. Both frame and panel are elaborately pierced and chiseled with foliate designs, the panel shows a dragon.
This dagger is part of an illustrious group of similar items that seem to date from the 18th century and earlier. A very similar dagger was once in the collection of the Qianlong emperor.1
Dagger in Qianlong's collection with this example superimposed on the page.
The collection records call the piece a Jīnchuān fān jiàn (金川番劍) or "Jinchuan Aborigines Dagger". Between 1747 and 1773 Jinchuan was the scene of two fierce wars and the dagger was obtained during the Second Jinchuan War of 1771-1773.2 The collection catalog entry is dated 40th year of Qianlong, corresponding to about 1776.
The Qianlong emperor was obviously already familiar with this type of hilt, and very much charmed by it, decades before. By the 15th year of his reign, around 1751, Qianlong ordered a redesign of the swords carried by the imperial guard during auspicious ceremonies such as the prayer at the Temple of Heaven. The hilts and scabbards of these swords closely follow the design of the Jīnchuān fān jiàn.
They are illustrated in the 1766 Huangchao Liqi Tushi.3
The Imperial Attendant Auspicious Ceremony saber.
A series of these sabers were made, and a few of them are still preserved in the Palace Museum Collection in Beijing. They combine a Chinese jiàn shaped tip on an otherwise single edged straight sword. The guard is lobed, like our example here, but the pommel is octagonal which could be a reference towards 8 as an auspicious Chinese number or towards the Eight Banners, or both. These swords carry the name Shénfēng (神鋒) or "divine edge" on their blades.
Our dagger compared to one of the published Shénfēng swords.4
Another comparable example is an early Eastern Tibetan sword I sold in 2018. It is probably significantly earlier, but it shares the scabbard style, and also has a strongly waisted hilt with a series of ornaments riveted to it. In this case not stone or coral studded, but simple brass:
Antique arms dealer Artzi Yarom used to own a dagger with a hilt much like our example here, studded with semi-precious stones and corals.
Other than the old Qing records, I am currently not aware of any similar daggers to this piece in museum collections.
Condition / restoration
Scabbard wood and leather was replaced, and 14 out of the 19 corals and turquoises are recent replacements. Original peening at the pommel still intact, confirming that hilt, guard, handle and blade were "born together". Blade, now polished, in excellent condition.
Dating and attribution
The pommel shape and construction are of a type I am used to seeing from the region from Arunachal Pradesh to Eastern Tibet and Western Sichuan. The Qing court collection cataloged a nearly identical example, obtained in the 18th century, as aboriginal Jinchuan, which perhaps indicated the true origin of the style.
Due to their rarity it is unclear how long these were produced but it seems 18th-century dating is not unreasonable when compared to the example published in the Qianlong collection. The brass scabbard frame may be 19th-century, earlier work tended to be iron.
A very rare and interesting type of dagger from the Eastern Tibet / Sichuan borderlands, of which very few survive today.
They seemed to have been highly appreciated in the 18th century already: The Qianlong emperor cherished one in his collection and modeled swords of his most important troops after them.
1. Xī qīng xù jiàn jiǎ biān (西清续鉴甲编). Published 1793, it is an overview of some of the collection kept at the imperial palace in Shenyang.
2. For more information on the Jinchuan wars, see my article the story of the Jianruiying and my descriptive article of an important Jinchuan sword I sold in 2018.
3. Huangchao Liqi Tushi (皇朝禮器圖式) or "Illustrated Regulations on the Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Present Dynasty". An imperially commissioned text that was published in 1766 based on a 1759 manuscript. Chapter 15.
4. See: Gugong Bowuyuan Cang Wenwu Zhenpin Quanji 56: Qing gong Wubei (故宫博物院藏文物珍品全集 56: 清宫武备) or "The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Beijing 56: Armaments and Military Provisions", Palace Museum, Beijing. Published Hong Kong 2008. Pages 131-133.
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