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(鍔ギャラリー③) Tsuba Gallery #3

Yamakichibei Tsuba (山吉兵鐔)

Japanese Title: 鎌に液図透かし鐔 (kama ni tsuyu no zu sukashi tsuba)

Material: Iron (tetsu 鉄)

Age: Azuchi-Momoyama Period (安土桃山時代)

Size: 6.4 cm X 7.2 cm, 3.0 mm at rim

Signature: Yamakichibei (山吉兵へ)

Shape: Nade Mokkō-gata (撫木瓜形)

Surface Finish: Tsuchime Ji (槌目地)

Attachment: None

This is a genuinely nice sword handguard (tsuba 鐔) made around the time of the first generation (shodai 初代) Yamakichibei (山吉兵) who was active during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (安土桃山時代) circa 1573 – 1615 CE.  He was a professional tsuba maker (tankō 鐔工) with an armorsmith (katchūshi 甲冑師) background employed by the feudal lord of Owari Province (尾張國).  The iron (tetsu鉄) displays a deep purplish-black color characteristic of local iron produced in Owari Province (Owari-jigane 尾張地金).  The almost melted glossiness is caused by an additional heat treatment to the plate surface after the tsuba was finished (yakite shitate 焼手仕立).  This type of surface treatment is very characteristic of work done by all the early generations Yamakichibei.  Many iron bones (tekkotsu 鉄骨) are present on the rim and on surface of the tsuba.  This tsuba was more than likely mounted on a short one-handed sword (uchigatana 打刀) that was only equipped with a single accessory knife (kozuka 小柄).  One side of the opening for the utility knife is lined with a deeply patinated copper-gold alloy (shakudō 赤銅) to protect the soft metal kozuka from rubbing on the extremely hard iron of this tsuba.  The opening for the blade (nakago hitsu-ana 中子櫃孔穴) is fitted with copper spacers (sekigane 責金) to protect the tang (nakago 中子) of the sword from rubbing the hard iron of the tsuba.
   The well-executed openwork (sukashi 透) design is of the sickle (kama 鎌) and dewdrops (tsuyu 液).  This was a popular openwork design made by early generations of Yamakichibei artists.  The two small holes one a little bit larger than the other near the back and not integrated into the overall openwork design are called (udenuki-ana 腕抜孔) they were used along with a thin leather cord to prevent the sword from being dropped in combat or while riding on horseback.
The tsuba was submitted for formal appraisal (shinsa 審査) in April 2018 to the Society for the Preservation of the Japanese Art Sword (NBTHK).  It failed appraisal because of a false signature (gimei 偽銘).  The NBTHK thought that it had a false signature trying to impersonate the first generation Yamakichibei overall, the workmanship of tsuba is particularly good and close to what you would see in works done by the recognized first generation Yamakichibei.           


Provenance: Steve Waszak Collection

Jidai Nobuie Tsuba (時代信家鐔)

Japanese Title:  瓢箪図鐔 ((hyōtan no zu tsuba)

Material:  Iron (tetsu 鉄)

Age:  Early Edo Period (江戸時代初期)

Size:  6.8 cm X 7.6 cm, 5.2 mm at rim, 2.0 mm at seppa-dai

Signature: Nobuie (信家)  

Shape: Mokkō-gata (木瓜形)       

Surface Finish:  Yakite-shitate (焼手仕立)  

Attachment:  None

This is a handguard (tsuba 鐔) made from very well forged iron (tetsu 鉄). The carved design on both sides of the plate is that of the vines, leaves and fruit of the bottle gourd (hyōtan 瓢箪) plant. The bottle gourd is one of the oldest cultivated plants in East Asia and has long been established as an auspicious sign of plenty. The fruit of plant is often found in art particularly around the time of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period during the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi who used it as an emblem. (1,2,3) 
While hard to clearly see the tsuba is signed on the left side of the central opening with two-character name (Nobuie 信家). While the placement and spacing is consistent with authentic examples due to the condition of the plate at the location of signature it is impossible to identify which of the seven different recognized styles, developed by Akiyama Kyūsaku, this signature (mei 銘) matches. (2)
The surface of the tsuba plate shows signs of significant heat treatment (yakite 焼手) causing iron bones (tekkotsu 鉄骨) to be exposed along the surface of the plate. The raised folded-over rim (uchikaeshi-mimi 打返耳) nicely displays a carved turtle shell pattern intermixed with more iron bones. Overall, this treatment and age of the plate creates a complex textured surface (jimon 地紋) that expresses the tea ceremony aesthetics (wabi-cha 佗び茶) developed by (Sen no Rikyū 千利休) 1522-1591 CE. (4)


1.    Legend in Japanese Art by Henri L. Joly. John Lane Company ©1908, pg. 101.
2.    Lethal Elegance the Art of Samurai Sword Fittings by Joe Earle. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ©2004, pg. 36.
3.    The Art Appreciation of Japanese Sword Fittings by Shigeo Fukushi. ©2012, pg. 316.
4.    Nobuie Tsuba by Itō Mitsuru ©2016, pgs. 6-7, 37.

Provenance: Peter Klein Collection

Kyō-Shōami Tsuba (京正阿弥鐔)

Japanese Title: 竹図透彫鍔 (take no zu sukashi bori tsuba)

Material: Iron (tetsu 鉄)

Age: Middle Edo Period (江戸時代中期)

Size:  6.7 cm X 7.2 cm, 3.0 mm at rim

Signature:  mumei (無銘)   

Shape: Tatemaru-gata (竪丸形)

Surface Finish: Tsuchimeji (槌目地)

Attachment: None


This is a handguard (tsuba 鐔) made of well forged iron (tetsu 鉄). It was made for a short sword (wakizashi 脇差) or possibly a shorter long sword (chiisai-katana 小さい刀). The openwork design of bent bamboo and leaves is done using a three dimensional carving style (nikubori ji-sukashi 肉彫地透). The Bamboo is considered a auspicious in Japanese culture and renowned for it resilience even during the cold of Winter. There are small dot inlays (zōgan 象厳) along the the bamboo leaves of brass and sliver that might represent morning dew drops. The rim of the tsuba is rounded (maru-mimi 丸耳) and completely intergraded into the overall decorative motif.


Provenance: Charlie Foos Collection         

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