From approximately the 5th to 3rd century B.C.
1: 76 x 71 mm
2: 72 x 66 mm
1: 87 grams
2: 88 grams
1: Probably Chinese for the Japanese market
2: Iron, silver, shakudo.
Both probably late 18th century
Both have been mounted
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Many Asian export sword guards, and later Japanese guards inspired by them, were modelled after the archetypical Chinese sword guard.
A Chinese sword guard of the 17th century.
The mother of the entire genre of kwanto-gata or "Canton-form" tsuba.
It didn't take long before makers started to experiment with the designs, and play with the various stylistic elements. Here an illustrative set.
1. Crowded with dragons
A small sword guard for the wakizashi, the Japanese shortsword. A Japanese made variation of the classic "Canton style" layout, but instead of two dragons reaching for the top, there are now three of them, seemingly slithering through the tendrils. The top two are reaching for the flaming pearl whilst the bottom one passes through a small roofed arch, with an iron pearl in its mouth!
Both "pearls" in this tsuba are complete cut free from their surroundings so they can move a little while being retained in their compartment. The maker's skill was further exhibited through no less than eleven areas of undercutting, where tendrils cross over each other with space in between.
The dragon that passes through the gate is probably representing the legend of a carp that passed through the Dragon Gate on its 100th birthday, becoming a dragon. It is a symbol for perseverance.
Such guards found a ready market under those that wanted to convey that they had rangaku or "Western learning", and were said to be especially popular amongst physicians in Nagasaki.
It still has an old collection inventory number written inside the tang aperture.
2. "1000 shrimps"
This tsuba depicts no less than 18 little shrimps. The work is not pierced through, but rather dimples are drilled around which the designs are formed. The washer seat (seppa-dai) has a typical Japanese form, indicating it was probably made in Japan.
Designs like these are generally attributed to the Yagami school, whose Mitsuhiro came up with the famous "1000 monkeys" design. See a wonderful example of such a guard in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, accession number 11.11536.
This guard still refers to the Asian export sword guards in the way the shrimps are laid out amongst dense vegetal forms, and the border of clouds around the kozuka hitsu ana. That aperture was plugged later with shakudo..
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Built around a beautifully forged blade, in full polish, revealing a burl grain pattern.
Presented by the local Dai nobility to a British customs officer in 1936.
With designs of four dragons in scrollwork around a "wish-granting-jewel"
A fine Chinese straightsword blade, of typical Qing form with a rather wide profile.
A rather well-made example of its type.