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Old 9th August 2012, 10:30 AM   #1
adrian
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Default Chinese Bronze Age dagger

A friend of mine owns this dagger, is was straight when he obtained it & over the years it has bowed quite badly. I examined it & explained that one side is corroding badly & that side is expanding & causing the bend.
He wishes to stabilise it (assuming the damage cannot now be reversed) what is the best treatment to do this? Coat it with wax?
Any advise gratefully received. Adrian
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Old 9th August 2012, 05:33 PM   #2
laEspadaAncha
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Adrian,

I would advise your friend not to bother attempting to fix, reverse, or restore anything, as IMHO there is nothing worth restoring.

At present, I have in my possession about a dozen bronze artifacts, half of which are Bronze Age pieces. Two of the bronze artifacts are early ritual vessels from China (one Shang Dynasty, onr T'ang Dynasty) and four more are edged weapons.

Furthermore, while I cannot attest to having held a period-original Chinese Bronze Age sword, I have had the chance to see several exmaples in curatorial collections, and to see the corrosion process is parallel to ritual vessels of the same period.

Unfortunately, with regards to your friend's sword, I see several severe 'red flags' that would have resulted in a 'pass' should I have encountered it myself at auction.

Nevermind the fact that I have never once seen a bronze artifact that 'bent' like that over time. I am not a metalurgist and would be interested to hear from one about this rather bizarre claimed result of oxidation, on bronze or otherwise, though as I understand the corrosion process as it occurs on both bronze and steel, an 'expansion' shouldn't happen (aside from possible delamination).

I found three severe concerns, each enumerated in the below photo.

First, no. 1 (shown up close in the insert) shows a clear 'ladder' artifact in one of the cut grooves that is a clear indication of a drill having been used to create this particular channel. Not only is the technique incorrect for the period, but the regularly-spaced intervals indicates the use of an electric drill, and thus modern manufacture. That would be enough for me to walk right there.

Second, no. 2 shows the fitment of stone to metal is crude compared to what one would expect from period work. Nevermind distortion from the 'bend' of the blade; there is simply too much variance in the tolerance between the two materials in any given section for it to be period-original work.

Lastly, the presentation of crackling of the epidermal layer of the encrustation (no. 3) is bizarre to say the least, and if - and that's a big "if" - it is a natural by-product of the corrosion process, it is a statistical outlier, something that in and of itself would raise concern IMO, and in conjunction with all the other red flags that present on this piece, makes me inclined to say with near certitude this is a knock-off of recent manufacture.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this field of collecting is nothing if not a learning experience for all of us...

Regards,

Chris


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Old 10th August 2012, 10:16 AM   #3
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A dive in vinegar 9 degrees a few days, wipe with a plastic brush, washing with distilled water, mineral oil lubrication.
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Old 10th August 2012, 01:01 PM   #4
fernando
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Quite a comprehensive input Chris .
This why i am awfully scared to buy bronze age artifacts.
I have had my own sour experience already
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Old 10th August 2012, 03:41 PM   #5
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I'd be careful with the vinegar. My experience with my replica bronze sword is that it cleans quite quickly and produces spots if you aren't careful.

I'd also point out that in EUROPE (I don't know about China), ancient swords were sometimes "killed" by bending them or folding them into unusable loops.

That said, if you're going to buy a reproduction instead of a genuine relic, you might as well buy something from [DELETED] or a similar artist, and find out what they looked like when they were new. [DELETED] work is gorgeous, although it's not, strictly speaking, ethnographic.

Best,

F

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Old 10th August 2012, 05:52 PM   #6
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This item truly is an interesting piece, and most of all bewildering in being posted in the European forum usually its the other way around! In any case, it is great to learn more on these Chinese bronze age interpretations.

Chris, what an informative and beautifully written description which perfectly itemizes the details in recognizing items which are being produced as antiquities in comparison to the genuine artifacts. Thank you so much for providing this data!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 10th August 2012, 06:17 PM   #7
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Adrian, if you find it interesting, we can move this tread to the Ethnographic forum, where further discussion may possibly take place
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Old 10th August 2012, 07:41 PM   #8
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I hope my post didn't discourage Adrian from replying...

Thank you both, 'Nando & Jim... It's always a pleasure to find an oportunity to contribute what little I can. Since opening our shop/gallery, we've had more Chinese lithics come in than I can count, both for consignment and purchase, and in that time I've spent more time analyzing "jade" through a loupe - and chasing down my observations - than I care to imagine...

With lithics, it's simply an issue of looking for tool marks that would be inconsistent for what an item represents itself to be. While this has the benefit of requiring a smaller tool kit than knowing & assessing accuracy of style, unfortunately the best fakers are able to render any sign of modern tooling invisible in the absence of proper lab equipment, making lithics the hardest category of antiquities to easily authenticate IMO.

With old bronze, it's more or less as with any field of collecting in that it's a matter of osmosis as a function of time and experience... primarily knowing how different accretions present themselves and how the patina changes over time - much as with any of the materials used in the edged weapons we study...

Cheers,

Chris
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Old 10th August 2012, 08:28 PM   #9
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CHINESE BRONZE ITEMS ARE DEFINITELY BUYER BEWARE.
I ALWAYS BUY BELIEVING IT TO BE A REPLICA, CONSIDERING WORKMANSHIP, MATERIAL (REAL BRONZE OR NOT), PRICE AND ASCETIC APPEAL (IF I LIKE ITS LOOKS)
THEY HAVE BEEN MAKEING EXCELLENT REPLICAS FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS AND IF YOU LOOK IN SOME OLD FORUM POSTS YOU WILL SEE PICTURES OF SHOPS FULL OF SUCH ITEMS. GOOD CHINESE REPLICAS ARE WORTH COLLECTING IF THEY ARE PRICED FAIRLY.
IT WOULD APPEAR THIS ITEM IS NOT MADE OF GOOD SOLID BRONZE OR BRASS BUT A MORE BASE AND UNSTABLE METAL WITH A PATINA, STONE AND METAL INSETED INTO IT. I HAVE NOT OBSERVED THIS IN A CHINESE BRONZE ITEM BEFORE BUT DID BUY WHAT APPEARED TO BE A SOUVINEER BRONZE GREEK DAGGER IN ATHENS YEARS AGO. IT DID THE SAME THING AS THE CHINESE SWORD YOU SHOW IT FORMED A CURVE, CRACKED AND BECAME BRITTLE AND CORRODED FROM THE INSIDE. NOTHING COULD BE DONE FOR IT AND I SUSPECT IN TIME IT WILL BREAK UP COMPLETELY.
THE QUALITY AND USE OF AUTHENTIC CHINESE FORMS IN WEAPONS HAS BEEN GOING DOWN FOR QUITE A WHILE NOW AND I SUSPECT THE USE OF THIS BASE METAL IS A MORE RECENT THING IN CHINA. THE GOAL BEING NOT TO MAKE A GOOD TRUE REPLICA BUT TO MAKE AS CHEAPLY AND FAST AS POSSIBLE TO SELL FOR A LARGER PROFIT.
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Old 12th August 2012, 06:56 AM   #10
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Hi Gents, thank you for responding & especially to Chris for his detailed reply.
Certainly the idea that the dagger is a fake was not previously entertained by me.

The swelling of what appears to be an underlying metal is odd, a magnet does not detect iron.
Chris with your knowledge of reproductions can you please suggest how it might have been made as I'm intrigued as to why it has bent over the years since it was acquired - supposedly this has happened since it was "excavated" & whilst I can imagine that happening I cannot so readily imagine it happening to a new item.

I have contacted the owner, supposedly this object came from a new dam site in China. Apparently objects found in excavations & discovered in buried caves etc that were to be flooded were given first to museums, the choice pieces, & the rest to workers etc to keep. Perhaps this is a familiar story does anyone know?
He theorises that the markings Chris points out are from cleaning the encrustation from the most attractive parts of the object - this does seem perfectly logical & can explain such marks.

Fernando perhaps its best to post in the correct section of the forum (my apologies for not doing so initially) & lets see if experts there can clarify the pedigree - or lack thereof - of this dagger.
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Old 12th August 2012, 01:05 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adrian
... Fernando perhaps its best to post in the correct section of the forum (my apologies for not doing so initially) & lets see if experts there can clarify the pedigree - or lack thereof - of this dagger.
Adrian

No apologies, Adrian. That's what we are here for ... Quartermaster
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Old 15th August 2012, 05:18 PM   #12
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Hi Adrian,

You're most certainly welcome...

I, too, have encountered at auction houses items with a similar background story to your own, with a claimed provenance of having been uncovered over the course of the Three River Gorges Damn Project. However, not one is uncluded among the aforementioned pieces I referenced in my first reply, as with the exception of one lithic, I sincerely doubt the authenticity of the others sharing the same background story. Don't get me wrong - I have no doubt that artifacts are uncovered on a routine basis, as this is the norm in any archaeologically-rich environment.

However, I firmly place my faith in the credo that you 'buy the sword, not the story.'

With regards to this piece, I cannot speak to the 'cleaned' surface... old bronze simply presents itself with too much variation - due to differing alloys, environmental conditions, etc. - to speak with any degree of certitude by looking at a photograph. However, the aforementioned issues provide enough visual clues to reach a conclusion.

With regards to the distortion of the metal as a result of corrosion, that's a first for me... Like I said, I've seen delamination due to oxidation, but not this kind of deformation. Let's hope one of our metalurgists can chime in on this.

Lastly, I rarely doubt the veracity of someone's claims on the face of the claim alone (or at least express my doubt on record), but I have to question your friend's claim that he is responsible for the artifact I highlighted in my earlier reply. I have a very hard time believing someone - anyone - cleaned out the channels of the face of the stone insert with an electric drill and that the result just *happened* to present itself very similarly to every modern Chinese knock-off lithic I've seen in which electric drills were used to create the finished product.
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Old 24th August 2012, 04:07 AM   #13
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I have one almost exactly like it (not pictured). I got it back in the 90s here in Korea; it was brought in from China. Mine's a fake, but interesting. Actually, I used to pick up imitation Chinese bronzes, as some of them are very well-made and look nice, even if not original. Attached is one of my favorites; I often use it in my Korean history classes so students can feel the weight of a bronze sword. Many years ago, I used to have a reproduction "bipa" (an ancient musical instrument) shaped bronze sword, which was used in NE Asia, but someone else wanted it a lot more...

Other common bronze fakes are arrow points and bronze mirrors. Fortunately, I came upon a cache of original bronze arrow points before faking became popular. There used to be some fantastic original bronzes available here in Korea, but not anymore. As an antiquities expert and friend of mine once said regarding Chinese bronzes, "It was probably made in a certain Beijing alley last Tuesday".
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Old 24th August 2012, 06:36 PM   #14
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THE LAST PICTURE POSTED IN THIS THREAD APPEARS TO BE A GOOD BRONZE REPLICA CHINESE SWORD I HAVE SEEN MANY SUCH ITEMS AND THE ONES I HAVE HAD FOR MANY YEARS HAVE NEVER DEFORMED OR CRACKED.
HERE ARE PICTURES OF THE GREEK LETTEROPENER (SORRY FOR THE POOR QUALITY PICTURES I TRIED SEVERAL TIMES BUT THESE WERE THE BEST I COULD DO AND I DON'T HAVE THE ABILITY TO LIGHTEN OR INHANCE CONTRAST). THIS GREEK ITEM IS MADE OF A POOR TYPE OF POT METAL AND WILL NOT DRAW A MAGNET THE PATINA HAS BEEN APPLIED TO THE OUTSIDE THE INSIDE RESEMBLES YOUR ITEM IN COLOR. NOTE THE BLADE HAS BENT AND IS BRITTLE THE TIP BROKE OFF SO IT CAN'T BE STRAIGHTENED. THERE ARE CRACKS THRU OUT AND IT CONTINUES TO DEGRADE.
A PICTURE OF A TYPICAL CHINESE SHOP OF WHICH THERE ARE CERTIANLY THOUSANDS IN CHINA JUST ONE OF MANY SHELFS IN THE SHOP.
A PICTURE OF A LURISTAN SWORD 20.75INCH LONG. NOTE THE HANDLE IT HAS A RAISED BRONZE FORM TO HOLD A INSERT OF HORN, WOOD OR STONE AS IS USUAL FOR MOUNTING INSERTS. YOUR EXAMPLE APPEARS TO HAVE HAD THE STONE PRESSED IN WHILE THE METAL WAS STILL SOFT.
I LIKE THE OLD SOLID BRONZE CHINESE REPLICAS BUT DO NOT LIKE THE POTMETAL SOUVINEER FOR OBVIOUS REASONS. I AM SORRY TO SEE CHINESE CRAFTSMEN DO THIS SORT OF THING AS THEY HAVE THE SKILL TO MAKE REPLICAS THAT ARE AS GOOD AS OR IN SOME CASES BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL ITEMS.
I LOOK ON MAKEING SOMETHING CHEAP AND POORLY MADE AS A EPIC LOSS OF FACE ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU CAN DUPLICATE A MASTERPIECE SO WELL THAT IT TAKES AN EXPERT TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE. I CAN ADMIRE THE WORKMANSHIP ON A GOOD DUPLICATE AS MUCH AS I DO THE ORIGINAL AND WILL PAY A FAIR PRICE FOR THAT WORKMANSHIP AND SKILL. WHERE I GET ANGRY IS WHEN A REPLICA IS DESCRIBED AS ORIGINAL AND PRICELESS WHEN I KNOW OTHERWISE. CHINAS REPUTATION (FACE) HAS SUFFERED FROM THIS FOR A LONG TIME BUT AT LEAST THE ITEMS WERE WELL MADE USING THE PROPER MATERIALS AND TECKNIQUES TO DUPLICATE CLOSELY REAL WORKS OF ART. THIS IS GOOD AS EVERYONE CAN'T OWN THE ONE ORIGINAL BUT CAN OWN AND ADMIRE THE ART EVEN IN A CLOSE REPLICA.
THE USE OF INFERIOR MATERIALS AND FANTASY DESIGNS REPRESENTED AS REAL ARTEFACTS IS SHAMEFUL AND A BIG STEP DOWN WHEN THEY CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER.
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Old 24th August 2012, 07:00 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VANDOO
I AM SORRY TO SEE CHINESE CRAFTSMEN DO THIS SORT OF THING AS THEY HAVE THE SKILL TO MAKE REPLICAS THAT ARE AS GOOD AS OR IN SOME CASES BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL ITEMS.



This has always been no small source of irony for me.

With a 5,000 year-old tradtion of metworking, it is a sad commentary that we most often attach to a Chinese attribution such modifiers as "fake" and "junk."



ETA: From the "ones that got away" file:

I once had a Luristan dagger/short sword that still had its original ivory inserts (on both sides)... It was one of two pcs. in the lot, the other described as Mycenaean, both from the same ex-Christie's lot. I sold the former to pay for keeping the latter, though I wish in hindsight I had sold something else instead...
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Old 24th August 2012, 10:25 PM   #16
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While we are on the subject of replica bronzes, here's one I bought in Denmark. Sold to me as a Museum REPLICA and one of a limited run, cast from an excavated original.
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Old 25th August 2012, 01:04 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VANDOO
THE LAST PICTURE POSTED IN THIS THREAD APPEARS TO BE A GOOD BRONZE REPLICA CHINESE SWORD I HAVE SEEN MANY SUCH ITEMS AND THE ONES I HAVE HAD FOR MANY YEARS HAVE NEVER DEFORMED OR CRACKED.


Yes, it is an excellent replica, which is why I use it in my Korean history and culture classes as a show-and-tell item regarding bronze weapons.

Quote:
HERE ARE PICTURES OF THE GREEK LETTEROPENER (SORRY FOR THE POOR QUALITY PICTURES I TRIED SEVERAL TIMES BUT THESE WERE THE BEST I COULD DO AND I DON'T HAVE THE ABILITY TO LIGHTEN OR INHANCE CONTRAST). THIS GREEK ITEM IS MADE OF A POOR TYPE OF POT METAL AND WILL NOT DRAW A MAGNET THE PATINA HAS BEEN APPLIED TO THE OUTSIDE THE INSIDE RESEMBLES YOUR ITEM IN COLOR. NOTE THE BLADE HAS BENT AND IS BRITTLE THE TIP BROKE OFF SO IT CAN'T BE STRAIGHTENED. THERE ARE CRACKS THRU OUT AND IT CONTINUES TO DEGRADE.


When I lived in Greece (exchange student back in the 70s), I picked up a really nice letter opener from an outdoor seller. It was the family's go-to opener and is still in excellent shape.

Quote:
I LIKE THE OLD SOLID BRONZE CHINESE REPLICAS BUT DO NOT LIKE THE POTMETAL SOUVINEER FOR OBVIOUS REASONS. I AM SORRY TO SEE CHINESE CRAFTSMEN DO THIS SORT OF THING AS THEY HAVE THE SKILL TO MAKE REPLICAS THAT ARE AS GOOD AS OR IN SOME CASES BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL ITEMS.


Agreed.

Quote:
I CAN ADMIRE THE WORKMANSHIP ON A GOOD DUPLICATE AS MUCH AS I DO THE ORIGINAL AND WILL PAY A FAIR PRICE FOR THAT WORKMANSHIP AND SKILL. WHERE I GET ANGRY IS WHEN A REPLICA IS DESCRIBED AS ORIGINAL AND PRICELESS WHEN I KNOW OTHERWISE.


Same here. I will happily pay a fair price for a quality repro, which is billed as such. If one just prices the cost of copper, just the intrinsic value of a good bronze can be quite a bit; if it is also a fine piece of art, the value can easily be a lot more.
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