This tsuba appears to be a typical Heianjo gemoku zogan tsuba, popular around the 17th and 18th centuries. As with posting #1, this type of tsuba appears to be attributed to the Kaga Yoshiro offshoot of the Heianjo school. One description that I have seen for this type of tsuba is that they are often old tosho tsuba given a new least of life with this decoration. I’m not sure that this would apply to this particular tsuba as the nagako ana is reasonably ubu with just a single punch mark for fitting a sword. I would expect the nagako ana to be a bit more bashed about if the tsuba had been recycled (unless a later sword was bigger and the nagako ana widened). The iron plate is fairly smooth and may be tsuchime (lighly hammered) rather than polished smooth. I’ve read that the term ‘gemoku’ is derived from the Japanese word ‘gomi’ meaning rubbish or junk and I suppose that is one description of the design, bits of scrap brass wire sprinkled on an iron base and fused/soldered into place. Another description is that the pattern represents a bed of pine needles scattered on the ground or on a lake. I prefer this description, as the ‘rubbish’ has been uniformly cut into about 2-3 mm lengths, some of which are copper. There are also long copper and brass strips resembling twigs. I have seen only one other example of this type of tsuba inlaid with copper as well as brass. This example has both copper and a silver coloured metal inlay (probably a silver solder alloy as it has not turned black), in addition to the brass. Copper and silver inlays are mentioned in the literature, but this is the first time that I have seen an example. How common is this?
We then come to the question of how the ‘inlay’ was applied. There are a few fine cuts in the plate where it looks like inlay may have been attached. But they are fine, looking like they had been cut using a Stanley knife (box cutter for our US readers) and don’t look as if they would provide much of an anchor for the long strips of fine copper wire, less than 0.5 mm in diameter (obviously they did not provide a firm anchor in some cases, as the inlay is missing!)
The close up photo shows groups of pine needle inlay raised slightly above the iron plate, imbedded in a matrix, which I assume to be some type of silver solder. These are therefore not true inlay. Other, single needles and fine copper twigs (less than 0.5 mm diameter) show no outward sign of solder. Has this been carefully trimmed away? There are a couple of long cuts where it looks like the ‘twig’ inlay did not attach, but are surrounded by silver solder. Why did the tsubako leave solder around these cuts, but not round the ‘twigs’ that were attached?
Soldering these fine bits of ‘rubbish’ onto the plate must have presented the artisan with some problems. Presumably they did not have access to some kind of blow torch for local heating. Possibly groups of needles were placed on a thin sheet of solder and attached in one go by heating the whole tsuba. But this does not seem to have been done for individual needles and twigs. Having completed one side, perhaps they placed the tsuba upside down on an iron plate to prevent the soldered bits falling off when the other side was decorated!
I must admit that until I bought this tsuba I was not very taken with gemoku decoration, considering it to be ‘rubbish’. However, looking closely at the way that the fine ‘scraps of brass and copper rubbish’ have been attached, they could not have been that easy to produce.
Dimension: Height: 7.6 cm, Width: 7.4 cm, Thickness: 0.35 cm
Old collector’s number ‘252’ inside the nagako ana (What a pity that the old inventories of these collectors do not seem to be extant as reference pieces).
Best regards, John (just a guy making observations, asking questions and trying to learn)