Monsoon-Asian Guard

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Provenance:    James L. McElhinney
                               Elliott D. Long
Iron sword guard with traces of gold and silver inlay of symbols and Chinese characters. Unusual pointed, octagonal seppa-dai. Lead-filled hitsu-ana are a later addition, not integral to the design. The thin plate has a rich patina suggesting significant age, late Muromachi period. This seems to be the work of a Monsoon Asian metalworker adapting Japanese design to local weapons production.

From the late Nambokucho to the early Edo period, Japan exported large numbers of edged weapons to Korea, China and Monsoon-Asia - Vietnam and Thailand. Japanese ronin served as marines on Spanish galleons operating out of the Philippines. It is noted that Vietnam produced sword-handles of octagonal cross-section, corresponding to the seppa-dai on this piece. More comparative study is required to determine the geographic origins of pieces like this.
8.79cm x 8.74cm x 0.35cm
This is a very interesting piece for several reasons. The shape is almost perfectly round. The excavated areas are not finished with the same care as the inlayed surfaces have been. Cross-hatching covers the pointed octagonal seppa-dai and dominant ring of designs around it. It is possible that the lower areas were carved out roughly to accommodate possibly enameling, which is now lost, along with much of the inlay.

Guards made in Indochina were regarded as utilitarian. When a sword was damaged or destroyed, the whole might be discarded or the materials recycled. There was not the same type of artistry accorded sword guards by the Japanese. If it had not been for the Dutch and Chinese merchants bringing these objects to Japan, where they were adapted to Japanese use, they might have been lost forever, or discovered in even worse condition if excavated from an archaeological dig.

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A Collaboration of Robert E. Haynes and Elliott D. Long

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