Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Little House on the Prairie
Well, I guess we have two different theories about this style.
I am confident that the first example in my last post here is not from the 1970s. Its condition and the amount of oxidation on the silver compare to provenanced examples of Shan knives from the 19th C.--those very familiar knives with silver hilts and scabbards. Just as you must have, I've handled scores of these over the years and older examples show similar wear and oxidation to the Lao example I show above.
But back to our two theories. If I'm stating you correctly, you believe that the Burmese developed the distinctive repoussed, segmented style of scabbard as a highly decorative and prestigious form, almost entirely for distinguished individuals and presentation pieces. You would date this development to the appearance of the British in Burma, and specifically around the mid-19th C. Therefore, the appearance of these features on Lao/northern Thai swords would have been in imitation of the Burmese style.
My competing idea is that this style evolved from an earlier Lan Chang (i.e. Lao) style following the collapse of the Lan Chang era in the early 18th C. This would place it primarily as a Lao style, with perhaps later diffusion to Burma. [There are, of course, other explanations such as independent parallel development of the two, which seems unlikely, or that both developed from a (presently unknown) prior style.]
In support of your view, you point to the large number of Thai/Lao swords you have seen and handled (and there are many on your site), and how rare it is to see segmented scabbards on these. That's a powerful argument, but not exactly a systematic attempt to answer the question of whether these segmented forms developed from an earlier Lan Chang style. Indeed, to disprove your Burmese origin theory it would only be necessary to find one or two Lao/Thai examples that predate the mid-19th C.
I have provided pictures of what I think is a 19th C. Lao example. You question that dating. Fair enough.
As with so many competing theories in our field, we need to have clearly provenanced pieces. These are likely to be found in museums of far away places which I seldom get to these days. Or they might be located in some of the former colonial countries. Or they may reside in the hands of some of our readers who will post them here.
Let's see if anything shows up.