Early Muromachi Ko-Kinko

Continuing the micro-theme of early and opulent, this time in shakudo nanako with uttori zogan. This guard is rather small, but extremely thick and obviously was mounted on a robust blade.

6.46 cm H x 1.07 cm T
The reverse
Again- over 1 cm thick with an undecorated rim. No sign it has been cut down or mounted with a fukurin.

Detail views of some of the plant motifs. Usually flowers are shown realistically but leaves, stems, seeds, etc. are often omitted or substituted by generalized karakusa type motifs. Here each plant is represented fully and accurately.

Omodaka (arrowhead) at right and Hishi (Eurasian water caltrop) in center – water plants in the water.
Yamabuki on the left (Japanese Keria var. picta)
Asago (morning glory) at left and Tachibana (citrus) at right
Once again, that botan (peony) motif in a different technique

It would be interesting to know what this was mounted on. Was it this thick for weight alone, for aesthetics and/or conspicuous consumption (it’s solid shakudo)? A published description speculates that it may have been a tachi guard converted for koshigatana or uchigatana use, but if so in its original state all of the floral motifs would be growing upside down and the water would be in the sky.

The small size, thickness and shape do recall some early tachi guards, and while I don’t think it was one, there may have been some allusion there. Was it mounted on a koshigatana that was worn paired with a tachi?

In any event, a good opportunity to study some of the better early Muromachi period nanako and uttori work on a guard that has it all turned up to 11.

Update: A reader mentioned that it may be that the guard was mounted on a tachi or kodachi in the present orientation. Given the large sekigane and heavy work on the seppa dai it is possible that the original nakago ana pointed the other way and that its original outline was lost in later remounting on a much thicker blade. If it originally had no hitsuana, it is very fortunate that none of the original decoration was cut in half when they were added.

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 with ume, hanabishi and inome sukashi.

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.

Interesting inlay

Another tsuba from the Chicago show is one that I’ve admired from my earliest collecting days. It appears in the second Haynes auction catalog from 1982 (about ten years before my time, with tsuba anyway).

8.42 cm H x 0.38 cm T Botan motif, shinchu suemon zogan

Lot 2, from the catalog: “Very rare and important Onin example”

“Iron rounded aori shape with raised carved rim, to resemble a rim cover, with good iron bones in the edge. The plate is inlaid on both sides with four peony branches of cast and carved brass, the edges secured by working the iron plate over the cast flange. The brass is the classical very rich color of the Onin period, circa 1450. The inlay is intact on both sides, but some of the flanges have pulled away from the plate. Ht. 8.4 cm., Th. 3 mm. (Note: it is rare and fortunate that riohitsu were never added at a later date.) (Est. price 500-750)

Ex. Jack Paras sale, lot 2, May 26, 1981″

Here’s a closer look at the inlay. The exposed flanges are particularly visible on the far right leaf and the bottom middle one.

I’ll have to make a closer inspection of other Onin guards to see if that is present but just not as obvious. There are some other places where the inlay is slightly lifted as Bob mentions, but here it appears tight to the plate and was probably never covered. The rest of the surrounding iron does show signs of being moved over the brass. Obviously enough was done to hold the inlay in place.

There are similar guards published, but not with enough detail visible to say for sure, but I don’t see that here.

Shishi Botan from Hyaku Tan
Shishi Botan on copper alloy ground. Source unrecorded

Many thanks to S for sending it my way after keeping it carefully for all these years.