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Old 21st June 2022, 06:30 PM   #1
Lee
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Thumbs up A Trio of Chinese Swords Joins the Accidental Collection

I do not ever hold high expectations of interesting swords showing up at a nearby general and estate sale auction that I frequent. Though one of a group of four Chinese swords in a recent sale appeared interesting from the teaser photo, my low expectations almost meant I did not attend the preview, but then I went along with a friend who wanted to buy something else that he did not bid on after seeing problems with it that were not evident from the pictures.

The first of these swords was a very nicely made and mounted jian with a stainless steel blade, clearly recent. That left three dao all, upon closer examination, with laminated steel blades. I pursued the two longer examples successfully and left the shorter ring pommel to a competing underbidder who never claimed his purchases and so I ultimately bought the ring pommel when it was re-auctioned.

All of these three swords appear to me to have older blades that have been refurbished by polishing of the blades and rewrapping of the hilts. I turned to Peter Dekkers excellent essay to refresh myself on what these were.

My favorite from the start, the longest, at bottom in the group images, appears to be a ynmodāo (goose quill saber) by curvature or a ytudāo (fish head saber) by profile with a concave back false edge from the rise on the back.

The middle one also has a brisk turn-up in the distal curvature of the blade, but there is a very gentle curvature proximal to that so I suspect this would best be called a liuydāo (willow leaf saber) rather than being another goose quill example. This blade seems to have been in the worst condition of the group prior to its repolishing.

Ill appreciate any further insights members may wish to provide.
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Old 22nd June 2022, 05:07 PM   #2
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Lee,
I am intrigued by the chape of the second from the top sword: it is very different from what I am accustomed to see on European and Indo-Persian scabbards.
Are there examples of a similar appearance elsewhere except for China? Was it an established Chinese pattern? In other words, where was it invented and was it adopted by other cultures?

Thanks,
Ariel
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Old 22nd June 2022, 06:57 PM   #3
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I can provide a more detailed image, which I have done below, but unfortunately I am ignorant of the origins of the design. A few other dao in my collection have somewhat fancier and shorter metal encasements of the scabbard tip while this one is longer and less wide.

Hopefully Philip, who wrote one of the articles I consulted, or another member may be able to give an informed answer.
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Old 2nd July 2022, 12:42 PM   #4
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Question Garbage?

So, no interest in or comment on these swords? Are they all very, very recent 'fakes' - I am not afraid that I was 'taken' as I do not have a lot invested in them. So, please, enlighten me!
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Old 2nd July 2022, 03:24 PM   #5
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So, no interest in or comment on these swords? Are they all very, very recent 'fakes' - I am not afraid that I was 'taken' as I do not have a lot invested in them. So, please, enlighten me!
Lee,
I know, it is a frustrating experience to show a sword for discussion and get zero responses.
In your case it is not so much lack of interest in a particular posting as the lack of knowledge about the general topic (thin line berween the two but you understand my meaning)
I can hardly remember anyone on this forum dedicated to Chinese swords.

Your query can be professionally answered only by a Chinese-focused person, and I can recall only one,- Peter Dekker. Certainly there are others in the general arms-collecting community, but I just do not know of them.

Sorry for being of no use.
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Old 2nd July 2022, 04:53 PM   #6
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Lack of knowledge indeed. I had a huge good steel, two handed Chinese sword with a long rectangular red painted handle. A brass circular loose fitting guard. Your usual militaria people would say this is just a show theatre sword. I now deeply regret letting it go for very little. If you have a hunch don't be fooled by lore and the uniformed. Hang on to it until sure.
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Old 2nd July 2022, 07:53 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by ariel View Post
... Your query can be professionally answered only by a Chinese-focused person, and I can recall only one,- Peter Dekker. Certainly there are others in the general arms-collecting community, but I just do not know of them...
How about PhilipTom; i guess he didn't notice this thread... yet !
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Old 2nd July 2022, 08:54 PM   #8
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I can hardly remember anyone on this forum dedicated to Chinese swords.

Your query can be professionally answered only by a Chinese-focused person, and I can recall only one,- Peter Dekker.
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Lack of knowledge indeed.
Outside of Mandarin Mansion it seems to be surprisingly hard to find good information about Chinese swords. Are there any good, well illustrated English language books about antique Chinese arms out there?
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Old 2nd July 2022, 10:52 PM   #9
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the shorter ring pommel to a competing underbidder who never claimed his purchases and so I ultimately bought the ring pommel when it was re-auctioned..
Lee, what a great scoop. Amazing how this stuff gets around. I know the ring pommeled one well, it was owned by a collector in Hawaii in the 1970s. It was in ratty shape when he got it, the wood grip almost rotted away and lots of pitting on the blade. I did the polish that you see now. Also made the storage scabbard, it's not historical in style, just a functional thing to protect a sharp and freshly polished edge. Had to re-manufacture the entire wood grip, and put the braided cloth wrapping patterned after an original. The owner didn't want the fabric "antiqued" since he was concerned about it later being passed off as old. Am so glad it's in your hands now!
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Old 2nd July 2022, 11:05 PM   #10
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I can provide a more detailed image, which I have done below, but unfortunately I am ignorant of the origins of the design. A few other dao in my collection have somewhat fancier and shorter metal encasements of the scabbard tip while this one is longer and less wide.

Hopefully Philip, who wrote one of the articles I consulted, or another member may be able to give an informed answer.
A most interesting saber. The blade is definitely old, though without having it in hand I'd be hesitant to say whether late 17th, 18th, or turn of 19th. The tunkou doesn't look stylistically quite right to me, it could well be a later replacement which is something occasionally seen on these sabers when the hilt fittings have been replaced. Which is definitely the case here -- the German-silver ( a cupronickel alloy) look possibly late 19th to early 20th. The chape design is unusual but legitimate. What is really odd is the construction of the suspension system. Normally, the bands have little tabs that are riveted to the sides of the bar. On better examples, they are recessed into the sides of the bar. Here they are soldered or brazed in place. The scabbard fittings on jian, with their fixed loops for the hanging straps, are assembled the same way. But I can't recall the last time I saw this construction on a saber scabbard. The upturned ends of the suspension bar are also strange. From a functional standpoint you don't want a gap where the bar terminates, next to the scabbard because things could possibly snag there. A normal saber scabbard has the bar ending flush against the dorsal edge of the sheath. Looking at the entire set of fittings, they are definitely later than the blade but, judging from the images, don't have a "new" feel to me. If you have a pic of the tang peening mushroom on the end of the pommel, I can get a better idea of when the re-hilting likely occurred.
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Old 2nd July 2022, 11:09 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Tim Simmons View Post
Lack of knowledge indeed. I had a huge good steel, two handed Chinese sword with a long rectangular red painted handle. A brass circular loose fitting guard. Your usual militaria people would say this is just a show theatre sword. I now deeply regret letting it go for very little. If you have a hunch don't be fooled by lore and the uniformed. Hang on to it until sure.
Tim, those militaria people are next to useless when evaluating anything ethnographic, or even pre-Industrial Revolution European weapons. I've lost track of the times when, at a gun show, some yahoo showed me a crappy Filipino or Chinese fighting knife and tried to sell it to me as a "last ditch Confederate naval bowie". If my restoration talents took a turn for larceny I bet I could make a few bucks by stamping CSA on the blades and inducing the proper level of pitting and patina to match everything else.
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Old 2nd July 2022, 11:25 PM   #12
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My favorite from the start, the longest, at bottom in the group images, appears to be a ynmodāo (goose quill saber) by curvature or a ytudāo (fish head saber) by profile with a concave back false edge from the rise on the back.


Ill appreciate any further insights members may wish to provide.
This bottom one is my favorite as well. The blade looks like one of my polish jobs, probably done in the last couple decades (after doing so many of these things, memory gets fuzzy as to whose sword it was ) The grip wrap is new, it looks like the work done by a guy here is southern CA who's very good from a technical standpoint but he didn't have the sources in China to get the authentically-woven stuff that Peter Dekker has access to; what you see looks like a close nylon facsimile in terms of width and thickness.

The iron fittings, heavily corroded, appear en suite and most likely original to the saber, which was probably carried by a lower-echelon field officer. A lot of these old rusty iron fittings were once decorated with silver koftgari, but the corrosion pretty much killed it off (iron and silver are an unstable combo anyway, the reason that Indian and "Islamic" weapons are more often seen with better-preserved gold than silver koftgari on hilts). The profile and style of the scabbard is correct.

This is a nice example of a Qing military saber, I would estimate its date to be mid-18th to the turn of the 19th. You see the same pattern depicted in Qianlong-era military portraits and battle scenes, the most accurately-rendered ones based on sketches by Jesuit missionaries who sometimes accompanied the campaigns as documentarians. It is also illustrated in Fr Joseph Amiot's (very rare) book on all things China, his chapter on military affairs even quotes from Qing production manuals regarding the materials and manufacture of army equipment.

The regulation styles changed in the 19th cent., favoring brass for most types, with bulbous pommels, oval-section sheath and grip, and rounded scabbard chapes.
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Old 3rd July 2022, 01:59 AM   #13
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How about PhilipTom; i guess he didn't notice this thread... yet !

Sorry, sorry, sorry!
Alzheimer moment..
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Old 3rd July 2022, 11:13 AM   #14
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Sorry, sorry, sorry!
Alzheimer moment..
I told you. The cavalry hasn't yet been alerted .
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Old 3rd July 2022, 12:06 PM   #15
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Since Philip Tom with his vast knowledge of Eastern weapons has joined the discussion, I would like to re-address my question to him:
- what are his thoughts about the peculiar form of the chape of the scabbard belonging to the second from the top sword? Is it specifically Chinese or was it employed in other cultures?
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Old 4th July 2022, 07:52 PM   #16
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If you have a pic of the tang peening mushroom on the end of the pommel, I can get a better idea of when the re-hilting likely occurred.
Philip, thank you for your insights on these swords as well the notes on their provenance. When I first saw them at the preview, it was clear that they had all required significant polishing and restoration and it was also clear that the work was of excellent quality (and reminded me of some of your fine work that had come my way via Scott Rodell decades ago.) These three swords came from a rural auction in upstate New York.

I have attached an image of the pommel showing the peening of the tang in the sword with later cupronickel mountings as you have suggested.

I refer to my collection of about a dozen Chinese swords as my "accidental" collection as for whatever reason, knowledge about them was pretty scarce in my earlier collecting days and so I never actively sought them. I guess a number of other collectors were influenced by the same information void. Fortunately a few really nice examples did find me over the years (via Scott Rodell, the Yaroms and Peter Dekker) but a number were chance encounters. I remember a dealer in Brimfield once 'begging" me to take a pair of Chinese swords, a big ring pommel and a big ox-tail at $75 each, if I recall correctly. I suspected they were recent and artificially aged, but I took them home anyway as he had done me well on another item. Months later, I examined them with more care and realized they were decent antiques!
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Old 4th July 2022, 11:12 PM   #17
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Philip, thank you for your insights on these swords as well the notes on their provenance. .

I have attached an image of the pommel showing the peening of the tang in the sword with later cupronickel mountings as you have suggested.
You're most welcome. Odd how that ring pommeled knife that I did the extensive restoration / rebuild on went all the way from the Sandwich Isles to a rural sale in the upcountry Empire State.

Thanks for the photo. The appearance of the peened iron doesn't have the color and texture of something that's been accumulating patina over as many years as that blade is likely to have been around.

The brass of the pommel appears to be of fairly flimsy sheet. This spells "late" and possibly decorative or theatrical to me. A blade like the one on that's on there now would likely have had something more substantial.

The more I look at the suspension system, the stranger things become. Not only are the soldered/brazed-on bands highly atypical for a saber scabbard, but also I see that the tops of the loops are also attached to the bar itself in a similar fashion. In almost all cases the bar itself is a one-piece construction, either forged and drilled/filed in the case of iron, or cast to shape in the case of non-ferrous alloys.
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Old 4th July 2022, 11:17 PM   #18
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Default more on the scabbard fittings

Another thing about this set of metal hardware that's a bit funny -- the chape has a chased border with a decorative curlicue at the apex. The throat and two bands lack any border. This runs counter to the preference for stylistic consistency when it comes to embellishment of the basic forms.
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Old 4th July 2022, 11:19 PM   #19
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Default Another question

Lee, I know that photos can sometimes deceive when it comes to color and tone when camera angle and ambient lighting come into play. With the piece in your hands, do you notice any difference in the color of the metal between the pommel/ferrule, the guard, and the scabbard fittings?
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Old 5th July 2022, 03:15 AM   #20
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It will be a day or two until I can again get the sword in my hands and in good light, but the original set of images was prepared in overcast sunlight.

The scabbard mounts and the guard are in a very similar and quite pale alloy, I presume a brass, though unusually pale. The ferrule of the hilt and the pommel are of a yellower alloy, I believe towards a more 'typical' brass.

The scabbard mounts are of adequately thick gauge stock compared to the pommel. My impression was that these mounts did show some age and evidence of honest use, but clearly not so much as the blade, just as you suspect. The lacquer on the scabbard also appeared to have some age.
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Old 5th July 2022, 05:15 AM   #21
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Thanks, Lee. You confirmed my initial suspicion about color difference between the components. I agree that the scabbard finish and the metal hardware are not new, they have some age though not likely "born together" with the blade. The wooden parts were fabricated to fit the blade at the time that the metal parts were assembled and installed, whenever that was. My guess is ca. 1900 or early in the last century. An altogether interesting and intriguing piece.

The red pigment in the fullers is lacquer, it was a form of decoration occasionally done, generally on better blades. Sometimes the fullers were lined in gold. Here is a very fine example, 17th through first half 18th cent., very subdued aesthetic but with channels lined in lacquer and gold, on display at the Museum of the Peoples Liberation Army, Beijing.
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Old 19th July 2022, 08:48 AM   #22
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Hi guys,

I'm a little late to the party. I see Philip -the O.G. of antique Chinese swords research- pretty much covered it all!

Considering his remarks at the tunkou, I agree and when you look at the pattern or pitting on the base of that blade I seem to be making out an outline of the original tunkou which was somewhat longer and of a slightly different profile.

The baitong mounted one seems to hark back to Ming dynasty saber designs in a tasteful way. The later suspension bar also reflects this, so whoever made it had some awareness of older pre-Qing stylistic elements.

I, too, like the iron-mounted one the most. Some pitting on mounts but considering how rarely good iron-mounted Chinese swords come up these days we should consider ourselves lucky when a complete one turns up at all.

Good finds!
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