Onin suemon zogan

Here’s another Onin tsuba for comparison to the one in the previous post.

9.91 cm H x 0.42 cm T mimi, 0.18 cm T seppa dai

Large, thin and unusually intact, it’s one of the nicer ones to have survived. Clearly the hitsuana are original. Without inlay, it would be a good ko-katchushi guard.

Occasionally some styles of early iron tsuba are found in versions with no inlay, with hira zogan or with nunome zogan that would be attributed to Tosho/Katchushi, Heianjo and Ko-Shoami respectively. It seems unlikely that these were actually the work of different “schools” but were various options available on the base model. I’ve wondered if all of the work was done “in house” on these, or if the inlay work was subcontracted out to an specialist.

In any event, the customer opted for maximum opulence in this case.

The plate surrounding the kiri mon and kiku shows the clearest signs of having been worked to hold the shinchu suemon inlay in place.

The kiku here, particularly on the lower left show some brass exposed outside of the design that wasn’t buried under the iron. It’s not as pronounced as in the previous example with the botan inlay. I’m not sure it’s quite the same thing. Also interesting is how the brass tendrils are fitted together – definitely not obvious without magnification.

The kiri mon on the back side shows a little more “flange” to it. Perhaps not quite as carefully done as the front.

Given how often brass inlay tsuba from the Edo period are missing pieces it’s remarkable that one this old was worked carefully enough to hold on to even the thinnest elements. In guards with some losses it’s usually possible to see the undercutting of the iron plate done around the edge of the missing inlay to hold it in place. I’ll keep an eye out for one to photograph.

Dated, not signed

I came across an interesting tsuba at the Chicago show last weekend. It’s nicely made and has an unusual texture to the iron. Design-wise it’s hard to say to who and where it might belong. It would very likely draw a Shoami attribution at shinsa if uninscribed, and I can’t see how this inscription would change that.

8.38 cm H x 0.49 cm T, suhama mon on left and matsukawabishi mon on right with ken, possibly enclosed within sacred jewels

The rim has a bit of activity to it, although it’s not quite tekkotsu. There is some texture and reflective patches. The guard has a pretty high pitched ring to it for its size.

We have few dated iron ji sukashi guards, so that is the first thing that makes this one interesting: Genroku junen ushi hachigatsu hi. 8th month of 1697.

Date left, non-signature right

So, the other side “should” be signed, but it isn’t. It seems to say “ha tetsu o mote kore o tsukuru.” The middle kanji on the right is the tough one. The rest is pretty standard, but it’s hard to say if that is “ha,” and if it isn’t then what is it? Any ideas?

If that is what it says, it’d be “made of cutting edge iron.” Notations about the type of steel are seen in sword signatures occasionally, but this one would be redundant on a blade. On a tsuba it makes me wonder if this was the work of a swordsmith or a tsubako. Edo tosho tsuba are well known, but they’re usually relatively simple.

If this was the work of a professional tsuba maker then why isn’t it signed? There’s room for it. Is it possible that this guard was delivered with a newly made sword, so date and material were worth noting, but signing the tsuba would be repetitious or unimportant? If the former, it was especially meticulously made by the swordsmith, if the latter it was subcontracted out to a tsubako who didn’t get to put his name on his work. In either case I’m guessing it was made from metal reserved from forging the blade.

The tsuba doesn’t appear to ever have had sekigane and the only signs of adjustment are two tiny strikes at the top front side of the nakago ana. So probably fitted to a sword, but only once. Maybe made for a sword. One with a fairly large nakago. It’s not exactly in the height of Genroku period fashion, so who knows if it was used at all.

As usual, more questions than answers. Thanks to G&N R for helpful consultation.

Nobunori

7.17 cm H x 0.49 cm T

After thinking about tsuba finishing from the previous post, I’m adding this tsuba as an example of reaching for the limits of thinness in iron sukashi. The maker is listed in Haynes at H 07513:

NTS: G. Heckmann: TSUBA, 1995, T 39, oval
iron plate carved in the round with Michikaze
with large umbrella by a willow tree and a
frog on the ground, with gold and silver
inlay. Somewhat in the Kyoto style and
with Soten overtones, signed: Nobunori.
SCE. G. Heckmann, 1995

That tsuba from Heckmann is here:

It’s clearly the same guy although the work is a bit less technically extreme. I haven’t found any other examples illustrated but will keep an eye out. Kyo mixed with Soten is about right, but it clearly is his own style. I don’t imagine these were the creation of an amateur who only made a few guards.

So, a closer look at the details of the first guard.

Not only are the lines extremely thin, their width tapers as well and “all” 5 mm of depth is layered in different levels. I don’t see any filemarks (other than the nunome) under more magnification. Was there an easy way to do this? If it was made separately and inlaid or otherwise attached, I’m not seeing any signs. Amazing.

Update: I had a random thought and checked the fine tendrils with a tiny rare earth magnet to seek out possible non-ferrous shenanigans. None were found.

An inlaid ana

Satome Kiku guard with an unusual modification

We’re used to seeing inlaid spokes on Sotome tsuba. Even more often we see kozuka ana cut into tsuba that did not originally have them. Occasionally when a new ana is cut into something like a nanban-style tsuba the rough opening will be finished off with a “inside” fukurin. In this case a craftsman not only cut the three spokes to make an opening, he created a new “ana” and dovetailed it into the seppa dai at top and bottom. The middle spoke uses the usual inlay method seen on Saotome kiku guards. The whole tsuba below:

7.37 cm H x 0.46 T

It’s an otherwise unexceptional example of the type. Since it has a “built in” kogai ana it seems likely that it originally had a similar kozuka ana. Either way someone chose to modify it rather than get a new one. Was the owner on a particularly tight budget or was there a personal attachment to the guard that meant that it could not replaced. Or, did it start off as an “off the rack” guard that didn’t quite fit what the buyer needed, but he was in a hurry and was promised that the alterations would be ready in the morning? After all, they knew how to inlay iron bits. As usual, unknown.