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.

A tsuba with two signatures

I recently came across this guard online. It was impossible to make everything out from the photos, but it looked like there were two different hands at work. After some rust removal we have the following.

The front
The back

So, even without reading it, it’s pretty clear that two different people signed.

The easier one first, the back, says Okamoto on the right and Yoshikiyo on the left. Okamoto is a family name found among a number of groups, and very frequently in Choshu. I don’t see a Yoshikiyo with these kanji listed, but Haynes 11517 is a Yoshiharu with the same yoshi, the family name Okamaoto from Choshu, so perhaps a connection.

H 11742 is a Myochin Yoshikiyo with the same characters working in Hizen. Normally that would be a clearly different guy, but given the other side I wonder if there is some connection.

So, the front – the left side is Myochin ki Mune… something. It’s an odd character and partially punched into oblivion. Going through the various Myochin Mune possibilities we find that the last Munesuke signed with that distinctive “xx” shaped suke. He’s recorded in Haynes at 06239 and Bob has handwritten the variant kanji in the listing.

The right side looks like hard work, but it’s convenient to know that it’s something that a number of Myochin smiths added to their work. Haynes reads it shinto go tetsu neru – “forged from five layers of iron.”

A few days ago I was reading Markus Sesko’s blog and found an interesting article on just this phrase:

About shintô-gotetsu inscriptions on Myôchin works

Markus reads it shinto go tetsu ren and suggests that rather than the standard interpretation the meaning may actually be “forged from an old begging bowl” of the type used by mendicant monks. Please read his post for the details and much more information. It’s very interesting.

So, a view of the entire guard with its carving of clouds:

7.52 cm H x 0.57 cm T

The carving resembles Choshu work and given that Munesuke claims credit for forging the plate with either meaning intended, it seems likely that Yoshikiyo worked the chisels. His unlisted status may be because he wasn’t known for making tsuba on his own. Or maybe he is known as the Myochin Yoshikiyo and for some reason at this point was referencing where he came from.

I will have to ask some Choshu tsuba collectors if this apparent collaborative work is a well known thing. I don’t recall seeing it before, but this is outside my usual area and I may have some or all of it wrong.

Update: Not a known thing so far.