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What Is Gold Damascene? Its Nunome Zogan!

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#1 Peter Bleed

Peter Bleed

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Posted 26 June 2017 - 07:05 PM

Dear Friends,

Please let me once again post a note that will risk getting me banished from the NMB - or at least cause "serious Japanese collectors" to roll their eyes.

This morning I enjoyed a podcast entitled "What is Gold Damascene" and I want to encourage NMB members to give it a look.




We Nippon-to types tend to be 1) elitist - believing that Japanese stuff is not only the best but also unique, and   2) naive about the rest of the World. In fact Japanese weapons makers addressed basic challenges of arms makers across the world and borrowed lots of foreign ideas. We tend to emphasize how Japanese craftsmen  applied those ideas. We like to think that the "Japanese way" is distinctive - if not unique, but looking more broadly can help us understand why that "way" is the way it is..

A case in point is Nunome zogan. We tend to see it as distinctively Japanese since it has that  nice Japanese name. The Japanese roots of nunome are pretty obscure,but it sure seems that gotten started in the early Edo period since there is little evidence of it before that time.. There are, to be sure, Korean examples of the technique. And the Indian version is called KOFTGARI, Both of those techniques are - well - not up to the Japanese standard.

What the Forgotten Weapons podcast makes clear is that the technique was also being practiced in the recent past in Spain - and at a very high level. I am not about to become a serious collector of pimped out Astra pocket pistols, but I think this discussion is worth our time.



Peter Bleed

#2 christianmalterre


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Posted 27 June 2017 - 12:56 AM


comparing this with the Chinese or Japanese/Korean tradition of minutiously done research and metalwork is somehow ( least i do understand it as this...)-comparing a first 1911 to a Glock 21 of the 3th Generation....( you do mention a Astra pistol- so i just allow me to dare a play with your´s wording here)



sounds like "comparing apples and eggs " certainly...

well? ....despite you follow the way of the idiot ?....least, this does proof to the expert  ( like here in your´s mentioned video)


nice to see such experts.... :rotfl:   (providing theirs knowledge ).


i do not know.?...i just am a simple stupid and bancrupt collector ! what else?....there are but experts for Luck!



do not blame me....


:) !



#3 Brian



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Posted 27 June 2017 - 08:49 AM

I am not quite sure what you said there Christian, but I am sure you weren't calling Peter an idiot? ;-)
I assume that is a reference to some saying....
Ford would be the one to properly respond to the OP. But the Japanese were certainly not the pioneers in many of the techniques. They just perfected the art :laughing:  (slight bias there)

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#4 Ford Hallam

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Posted 27 June 2017 - 12:18 PM

Hey Brian


I actually wrote a post before bed last night but had socond thoughts about posting for fear of stirring things up...as I seem to do :laughing: :dunno:



First off I should say thanks to Peter for finding that film and raising some valid and interesting points. It's probably very true that many Nihonto aficionados are completely unaware of many superb metalworking traditions from all around the world. There is a certain 'superior attitude' that sometimes pervades discussion of the subject in the Nihonto world I fear. Sadly much of this sort of bias originates in Japan itself and is emboldened by a lack of awareness of other cultures achievements in metal arts.

The recent discussion regarding the obvious superiority of 'old iron' is a good example. I wasn't going to be drawn to that thread because to me it all seemed so obviously subjective opinion pretending to be absolute truth...and Guido beat me to to it anyway. :thumbsup:  

 I should point out that the Spanish (Eibar/Zuloaga) work shown in the film is of the same sort of quality as the run of the mill Komai work of the Meiji Period. The really good Zuloaga work is as good as any of the world’s finest metal art. For anyone who has seen or has the Khalli collection catalogue on Zuloaga work (without question the largest and most important collection of that type), I cleaned many of those very items so I know them very well.

Similarly, the very finest Komai work is absolutely superb. But even that isn't actually the finest Nunome-work that was produced in Japan at the time. To offer one example there were two generations of the Kashima family in Tokyo who took the art-form to a whole other level of delicacy and refinement,the first master was appointed Teishitsu Gigeiin (Imperial Artist).  And rarely is there talk of the Otsuno and Inoue companies of Kyoto both of whom produced works of sublime delicacy and refinement.

But this can't be approached like some sort of fantasy football league. We can talk of relative skill levels and the obvious care with which the various works were created but there does come a point, at the very top, where each piece must be assessed on its own merits.

Nunome-zogan, as the basic technique is now known in Japan, almost certainly came from what is now Korea, along with pretty much all of the original metalworking culture of Japan. The earliest Korean examples of this technique I have found and that are attested to by Korean authorities are late 16th century.

It may be worth pointing out that one detail that distinguishes the Japanese approach from that of India, the Middle East and Spain is that in these regions a blade is/was used to score the cross-hatched ground whereas in Japan and Korea a chisel was used. There are a few other technical details that suggest that the development of these techniques may not be connected with the Middle Eastern variety, as might at first appear based on a casual overview. I would add, to further complicate the issue, that there appear to have been at least three very different approaches to koftgari in India, each having specific names and being confined to certain areas.

 The general notion of a dispersion of technology from a singular origin is now treated with a great deal of caution within the archaeological and academic community as it's now clear that in many cases similar technologies developed independently in different regions and often even at the same times.

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