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(鍔ギャラリー①) Tsuba Gallery #1

Nidai Nobuie Tsuba (二代信家鐔)

Japanese Title:  水玉透鐔 (mizuho shukashi tsuba)        
Material:  Iron (tetsu 鉄)     
Age:  Azuchi-Momoyama Period (安土桃山時代)
Size:  7.9 cm X 8.4 cm, 6 mm at rim, 3 mm at center
Signature:  Nobuie (信家)
Shape:  Mokkō-gata (木瓜形)      
Surface Finish:  Tsuchime-ji (槌目地)          
Attachment:  NBTHK Tokubetsu Kicho Paper


This a large sword hand guard (tsuba 鐔) made of forged iron (tetsu 鉄). The overall shape of the tsuba is referred to as (mokkō-gata 木瓜形).  The iron of the tsuba is very well forged and hardened using an additional heat treatment of plate (yakite shitate 焼手仕立).  The surface also displays a wonderful, hammered texture (tsuchime-ji 槌目地).  The surface is intermixed with granular iron bones (tekkotsu 鐵骨).  These effects in the iron were likely enhanced by the additional heat treatment of the plate and layers of the iron are visible along the edge.  A texture (ji-mon 地紋) consisting of random pinpoints are present all over the surface of the tsuba. The design of a bottle gourd with vines (hyōtan 瓢箪) are carved using a fine hairline carving (kebori 毛彫).     

Two small holes one larger than the other near the back are called (udenuki-ana 腕抜孔) they were used with a thin leather cord to prevent the sword from being dropped in combat or while riding on horseback with the sword.  The udenuki-ana of the tsuba can be interpreted as small openwork (ko-sukashi 小透) design referred to as water droplets (mizu-tama 水玉).  The rim of tsuba is nicely raised and turned up (uchikaeshi-mimi 打返耳) intermixed with a few granular iron bones.

The two earliest generations of Nobuie (信家) were based near the castle of Kiyosu (清洲) in Owari Province (尾張國) from the late Muromachi Period (室町時代後期) to the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (安土桃山時代). They were first retainers of the ruling Oda (織田) Clan and had some type of connection to the (Myochin 明弥) family of armor smiths.  The nature of this connection is not known completely. The second generations of Nobuie moved from Kiyosu with Fukushima Masanori (福島正則) to Aki Province (安芸國) in 1600 CE.  Kiyosu Castle was dismantled from 1609-1613 CE and moved to Nagoya to help build a castle which became the new capital of Owari Province.  There was likely a third generation a student of the second generation that signed (San Nobuie 三信家) who worked in Aki Province during the early Edo Period (江戸時代初期).   

Beginning with the late Akiyama Kyūsaku active during the Meiji Period (明治時代) he theorized that there were just three early generations of early Nobuie making seven different clear signatures styles.  He also theorized that the first generations Nobuie tsuba artist was not the armor smith Myochin Nobuie (明弥信家) of Ki Province (紀國) who worked from about 1521-1558 CE.  While his theory is the most popular now, other authors and researchers, some even contemporary with Akiyama disagreed with him and thought there was likely more than just three generations of early Nobuie artists.  They theorize that several early artists likely formed the basis of a “Nobuie style" that became extremely popular by the mid Edo Period.

On the front side of this tsuba is carved the two-character signature (nijimei 二字銘) that is both fine (hosoji-mei 細字銘) and spaced (hanare-mei 放れ銘) style signature.  From an analysis of the signature the nine strokes that make up the (nobu 信) character are correct and clearly present.  The ten strokes that make up the (ie 家) character are all correct and clear.

This tsuba has underwent formal appraisal (shinsa 審査) in Tokyo, Japan at the Society for the Preservation of the Japanese Art Sword (NBTHK) on March 3, 1973.  At which time, this tsuba was awarded a (tokubetsu kicho 特別貴重) certificate designating it to be authentic and especially precious.  The attribution written on the paper is "Nobuie (信家)" indicating the signature was judged to be authentic.  An attribution to a specific early generation was not made, but I think this tsuba is the work of the second generation Nobuie sometime during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. Other knowledgeable people have also expressed this same conclusion after examining the tsuba in hand. In 2019 I had confirmed via the NBTHK head office in Tokyo that the appraisal paper is authentic. 

Provenance: Charlie Foos Collection 

Ko-Kinkō Tsuba (古金工鐔)

Japanese Title:  雨傘透かし図鐔 (amagasa sukashi no zu tsuba)

Material: Unrefined Copper (yamagane 山銅)   

Age: Muromachi Period (室磨時代)  

Size: 6.5 cm X 6.7 cm, 3.0 mm at rim cover.

Signature: Mumei (無銘)

Shape: Tatemaru-gata (竪丸形)

Surface Finish: Random Texture (Jimon 地紋)

Attachment: None

This is a handguard (tsuba 鐔) and is made of unrefined copper (yamagane 山銅). The surface has been deeply covered in black lacquered (kuro-urushi 黒漆). It was likely made to be mounted on an older style short sword (kodaichi 小太刀) during the Muromachi Period but later modified and remounted to fit on an Edo Period short sword (wakizashi 脇差). The accessory hole for the small utility knife (kozuka-hitsu-ana 小塚櫃穴) was added later when the tsuba was remounted for a wakizashi during the Edo Period.  

The small openwork (ko-suakshi 小透) design of rain hat (amagasa 雨傘). The stylized design is replicated in sequence eight times around the edge of the tsuba plate (ji 地) almost forming a wheel-like pattern. The number eight is auspicious in Japanese culture and it as well as the overall pattern have a significant connection to Buddhism.            

The tsuba is thickest at the raised hallow rim cover and thins greatly towards the center of the tsuba and the (seppa-dai 切羽台).


Provenance: Unknown, purchased from a US antiques dealer.

Yamakichi Tsuba (山吉鐔)


Japanese Title:  Japanese Title:  蛙目図鐔 (Gaerome no zu tsuba)       
Material: Iron (tetsu 鉄)       
Age: Late Edo Period (江戸時代後期)  
Size:  8.0 cm X 8.8cm, 3.0 mm at seppa-dai, 4.5 mm at rim  
Signature:  Yamakichi (山吉)  
Shape:  Mokkō-gata (木瓜形)
Surface Finish:  Tsuchime-ji (槌目地)        
Attachment:  None

This is a sword handguard (tsuba 鐔) made of very well forged iron (tetsu 鉄) for a large sword (katana 刀). It is signed Yamakichi (山吉). On both sides of the tsuba is exceptionally fine carved radiating file marks similar in style to a halo of a Buddha (amida-yasurime 阿弥陀鑢目) or the rays of the morning sun. The small circles around the accessory holes are commonly referred to as 'frog's face' (gaerome 蛙目). Always numbering five in total, considered a lucky number, this was a unique artistic motif associated with the later generations of Yamakichi produced in Owari Province. The tsuba displays a nicely turned-up rim (uchikaeshi-mimi 打返耳) with numerous fine iron bones (tekkotsu 鉄骨).

Provenance: Unknown US Collector

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