A large Tibetan sword, known in the local language as dpa'dam.
125 cm / 49"
139 cm / 54.7" with legs extended
74.2 cm / 29.2"
14 mm / .55 inch
Wood, iron, silver, brass, leather, cotton
From the collection of Alexander von Hoffmeister
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Firearms have probably been introduced into China as early as the 16th century, not long after their introduction to Asia by the Portuguese. 19th-century sources mention how the Tibetans relied much on archery and musketry, and that many warriors carried a lance, sword, bow, and musket.1
The Tibetan gun is typically a smoothbore matchlock, its most characteristic feature are the "gun horns", a bipod to help to stabilize the aim from foot. They were used from horseback as well as from foot, and contests with mounted musketry have been recorded from as early as the late 17th century all the way to the early 20th century.2
Their simplicity made them very durable and versatile, and they were reportedly even used to shoot stones and gravel once the musketeer ran out of bullets.
Notes to introduction
1. Heath, Ian; "Armies of the Nineteenth Century: Asia: Central Asia and the Himalayan Kingdoms", Foundry Books, Guernsey, 1998. Page 158-159.
2. For an excellent overall introduction, see: Donald J. Larocca; Warriors of the Himalayas; Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. Pages 198-213.
A nice example of a rare, shorter carbine sized Tibetan matchlock musket. It has a substantial twist-forged barrel with beaded fore-sight and arched rear sight with a peephole. The stock is made of a single large piece of nicely patinated dark hardwood.
It is reinforced with silver plates worked in repoussé with traditional Tibetan designs of swirling clouds and dragon chasing pearl. At the base for the bipod is a silver plate with a scene of flaming jewels of wisdom emerging from a lotus flower. The lotus works its way up from murky depths to the light, producing a pristine white flower above the surface. This has long associated the plant with the path to enlightenment.
The mechanism is of simple and straightforward type, with a trigger and serpentine that are made of one single piece of iron that pivots around a peg to lower the match. This type of firing mechanism originated in the Ottoman empire and spread East through Persia into Central Asia to China and Tibet. It was known in China as lumiqiang or "Roman gun", which reached China around 1530. This in contrast to the spring-loaded snapping Indo-Portuguese type, which was introduced into by the Portuguese in the 16th century. This type became widespread in Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea and parts of southern China.
The piece is complete with its foldable bipod, leather pouch for the slow-burning match, and its leather sling. It also comes with its original copper ramrod.
Good condition throughout. The usual age-related wear, but no significant damage or loss anywhere. The silver and copper buttpiece is of a somewhat simpler design from the other silver mounts and may be a somewhat later replacement. If so, it is most certainly a working life replacement as it exhibits all the right wear and patination. The leather is in a rather good condition, some damage at the pouch but most of it is still soft and flexible.
This is one of those pieces that I personally really quite like. It is not overly flashy or pretentious, but an honest practical piece with modest decoration according to the tastes of the people that used it. It has all the right wear and tear, no significant damage and no signs of recent repairs or alterations. A good, representative example of a rare type of Tibetan matchlock.
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This kind of fine work is typical for Tibetan work of the 15th-16th centuries.
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