About those Tensho dated tsuba

I recently came across an iron sukashi tsuba dated Tensho 3 that got me thinking again about the question of whether these early dated guards are legitimate or some sort of tribute (at best). The first of these I saw 20 plus years ago was one Robert Haynes had turned up that appeared in the famous Red Cross catalog. It’s illustrated in his book Study Collection of Japanese Sword Fittings – Gai So Shi.

Bob writes “Since it is the only known example of this signature I entered it in my book as H 03296.0. In Japan such dates are dismissed, but they are wrong. There are a large number of dated tsuba before and just after this one, such as 1532, 1543, 1573, 1582, 1587 and another dated the same year as this one.” Closer views of the signature are here:

February 1573

The light is hitting the strokes a bit differently on the two sides, but the style of the characters look consistent. If adding a spurious early date, why do so with an otherwise unknown name? The workmanship of the rest of the guard is consistent with the period. I’m inclined to agree that it’s more likely genuine than not.

I undertook a search of Haynes’ opus mentioned in his quote above, The Index of Japanese Sword Fittings and Associated Artists for these other dates. I wound up expanding the search through all dates from the 16th century and came up with the following list.

1502 Ranko (Owari) H 07516

1504 Myochin Nobutada H 07188

1523 Miko (Hizen) H 05085

1532 Myochin Yoshifusa H 11476

1532 Muneoku H 06209

1533 Tadamasa (Hizen) H 09102

1533 Terutoshi (Mutsu) H 09651

1538 Myochin Munenori H 06194

1558 Myochin Unkai H 11064

1563 Munenaga H 06172

1570 Shoami Iranken H 01899

1573 Kiyonami H 03296

1573 Masahige (Heianjo) H 04472

1575, 77 Koike Masaie (Echizen) H 04047

1577, 78 Suzuki Shigemitsu (Heianjo) H 08352

1577 Suzuki Shigeyuki (Heianjo) H 08609

1577 Kishiwada Zaisai (Izumi) H 12517

1582 Tojo (Kyoto) H 09720

1587 Mori Soemon H 08877

1591 Mitsumoto H 05282

1599 Shoami Tsuneyoshi (Yamashiro) H 10942

Given that the Myochin appear to have extensively embellished their early genealogy I tend to discount the value of those dates listed above. Some may be valid, but setting them aside still leaves us with 19 tsuba with dates from the 1500’s.

Another Tensho dated example I’ve seen in person was from Alan Harvie’s collection, the illustration here from the 2005 London sale catalog.

Tensho 3 – 1575 8.2 cm H

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the other side. This would be the Shigemitsu listed as H 08352 with recorded dates of 1577 and 1578. Since Bob was certainly familiar with this tsuba, there appears to be a slight discrepancy in the record. This is a very finely made and unusual tsuba with the dragon’s eye done in glass. I wish I could get another look at it now. Is it a later worker enhancing his pedigree or an exceptional work? According to the listing there is at least one other dated example by him out there.

Below is the guard I just found.

7.76 cm H x 0.48 cm T
Nobumasa kore o tsukuru / Tensho san nen

So another date of 1575. Checking Haynes, there is a Myochin Nobumasa with a different masa working ca. 1550-1600, H 07118 but no other information. H 07112 with the same characters and also working 1550 -1600 seemed promising, however the example referenced from the Oeder catalog, p. 20 #153 looks quite different. The signature is not easy to see, but certainly not related.

Oeder collection Nobumasa

If my tsuba was signed with the Myochin family name, I’d expect it to likely be spurious. But this is another case of an otherwise unrecorded artist and a date that appears to be in the same hand as the name. I don’t think of mokume tsuba at this early date, but the rest of the workmanship and condition is not out of line with the period.

It still doesn’t quite ring true to me, but what was the goal if it isn’t? Maybe in the shinshinto revival period there was a market for fake early dates as there was for copies of Nobuie, Hoan, Yamakichi, etc. Of course those are all famous names and unmistakable styles. Why bother with a guard like this one.

Well outside the date range I covered above is a never the less interesting ko-kinko guard published in one of the great catalogs from the fittings museum in Sugamo back in 1994: (note that in my research files I routinely add random text notes that do not appear in the original photos)

This is dated much earlier, 1394, and enigmatically signed Botanka rojin. Haynes lists this guard at H 00202 and interprets the signature as perhaps “old Mr. Peony Flower” (botan being peony). The guard certainly looks like it could be from the period and it’s published in that issue of Tosogu Meihin Ten along with other famous ko-kinko and ko-mino works.

In this case the date looks to me to be cut with a thicker chisel. Is it a different hand? There appear to be a couple of uncertain strokes there. Is it all a tribute of some sort? The ring-type nanako punches on the seppa dai are interesting. They aren’t quite the same as what’s on the web of the guard. Was it added as “proof” that the date couldn’t have been added after the name?

I’m afraid I’ve added confusion on top of uncertainty in this post. If anyone has any other examples or clarifying ideas I’d love to hear your comments.

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