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Heianjo/yoshiro Tsuba #3


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#1 JohnTo

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Posted 24 July 2017 - 06:22 PM

OK, a bit of a time delay between posting Heinjo tsuba 1 and 3 and the final one from my collection, but the original photos were a bit naff.

Nothing particularly exciting about this oval Heianjo/Kaga Yoshiro type tsuba at first glance, a 24-petalled chrysanthemum (hey, I spelt it correctly!) with brass inlay.  I would guess that the inlay the Kaga branch of the Heianjo school.  Some of the inlay is missing, which does provide an opportunity to look at how the inlay was applied!  Unlike posting for tsuba #1 and #2 the inlay is flush with the iron plate.  Of note is the lack of hitsu ana, which may be an indication (not reliable) that this tsuba is pre-Edo, say 1650-1600.

An almost identical tsuba came up recently in an auction that I saw on line (see Word document attached) with an NHTBK attribution to the Kaga Yoshiro school.  My Japanese is not good enough to make out much more than the mumei Kaga Yoshiro attribution, but I’m happy with their assessment

A similar tsuba was sold as part of the Compton Collection (Part II, lot 27, 22 October, 1992).  I say similar in that it was also a 24-petalled chrysanthemum (not 23 as Christies counted) with a slight mokko shape and a single kodzuka hitsu.  As far as I can see from their photo the punch marks around the nagako ana are similar (round punch along both sides) and it seems the tsuba was attributed to the Saotome school largely because of this kantei point.  The inlay was described as a later Kaga addition.  I suppose most of us are more familiar with the ca. 72-petalled chrysanthemum pattern that typified Saotome work.  My knowledge of tsuba is not good enough to say if this tsuba could be Saotome work, but from the limited information that I have found, Saotome tsuba seem to be thick (4-5 mm) as is this tsuba.  I gather that the Japanese liked to embellish old tsuba with soft metal in the Edo period, so a possibility. 

My inclination is to attribute this tsuba to the late 16th C based upon:

  1. The solid nature of the tsuba, which would have been more of a requirement during this waring time.
  2. The lack of hitsu ana.
  3. The lack of sophistication in both the tsuba and inlay.

 

And finally a silly question.  The city of Kyoto was formerly known as Heian.  Can anyone tell me why brass inlay tsuba are called Heianjo whereas sukashi tsuba are termed Kyo-sukashi, both being produced in the same area around the same time, ca. 1600?

Anyway, comments welcome, so shoot me down.

Best regards, John (just a guy making observations, asking questions and trying to learn)

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#2 Rich S

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Posted 24 July 2017 - 09:37 PM

Nice tsuba. I'm wondering if perhaps it is on a Saotome plate decorated by Heianjo?  I have a nice Saotome with very similar brass inlay.

 

Rich

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#3 Steve Waszak

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Posted 24 July 2017 - 11:02 PM

I am thinking more and more that much/most (or even all?) of the brass inlay we see on Heianjo and even Onin tsuba is added later (latest Momoyama to early Edo periods) to existing steel plates produced perhaps decades earlier by the Saotome, tosho, and other groups of iron workers.  The aesthetics of Heianjo guards, in particular, strike me more as in keeping with Momoyama sensibilities than those of Muromachi.


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#4 JohnTo

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 06:11 PM

Thanks Rich, Steve

 

Looks like I have a Saotome tsuba, decorated at a later date with brass inlay.  I get the feeling from your comments and ones concerming the gomoko tsuba (posting Heianjo/Yoshiro tsuba #2) that brass became the 'in' decoration for tsuba in the late 16th C.  Perhaps samurai dropped their tsuba into specialist inlay artists while they were in the area during this period if civil war.  Much like sailors calling into a port and getting a tattoo. 



#5 Pete Klein

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 07:26 PM

​"The city of Kyoto was formerly known as Heian.  Can anyone tell me why brass inlay tsuba are called Heianjo whereas sukashi tsuba are termed Kyo-sukashi, both being produced in the same area around the same time, ca. 1600"?

 

John - the early name was Heianjo sukashi and some argue that it was contemporary to Kyo sukashi.  Personally, I feel it's all just semantics and argument just for the sake of being different.  All this was thought up well after the fact by people who all wanted to be the 'head sensei' but since it's just become agreed upon (for the most part) nomenclature.  It all became Kyo sukashi at some point in the last forty years.  If anyone has an NBTHK paper of the last fifteen/twenty years to Heianjo sukashi I'd really like to see it.  Also. this is why the brass tsuba have 'zogan' after Heianjo to differentiate them from the sukashi school.  I suppose this is for the Helen Keller branch society...


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#6 rkg

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Posted 26 July 2017 - 08:57 PM

John,

 

Often anything that remotely resembles a chrysanthemum gets assigned to the Saotome bin - while it was one of their favorite themes, there are other points...

 

That metal surface on your piece is wrong for saotome work - your piece looks like the material you typically see in heianjo-ish inlaid pieces - I think of it as "doughy"/It seems to corrode quite easily.

 

Saotome:

http://www.rkgphotos...tome_front.html

https://www.facebook...065621873493160

https://www.facebook...023433461045335

http://home.teleport...otome_front.jpg

 

and then here's one with some corrosion, though some people argue these weren't done by the same group:

https://www.facebook...061310870590927

 

Heianjo/onin/etc:

https://www.facebook...022965847758763

http://www.rkgphotos...anjo_front.html

https://www.facebook...801865696535447

https://www.facebook...?type=3

 

lots of corroded ones online :-)

 

Good Luck,

rkg

(Richard George)

 


 

Thanks Rich, Steve

 

Looks like I have a Saotome tsuba, decorated at a later date with brass inlay.  I get the feeling from your comments and ones concerming the gomoko tsuba (posting Heianjo/Yoshiro tsuba #2) that brass became the 'in' decoration for tsuba in the late 16th C.  Perhaps samurai dropped their tsuba into specialist inlay artists while they were in the area during this period if civil war.  Much like sailors calling into a port and getting a tattoo. 



#7 Ford Hallam

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 05:12 PM

Based on my own research which has combined material analysis, trade documentation and Sino-Japanese trade relations, possible Portuguese trade from India, the transition from cementation brass to spelter brass in the late Ming Dynasty (late Wanli Period) along with many other salient factors my conclusion is that early brass decoration on iron guards probably began sometime after 1621.

Cementation brass, brass made with zinc ore, is a variable product and while occasionally exceptional examples are discovered that have very high levels of zinc (as much as 30%) these are rare. The typical upper limit that archaeologists agree on is around 22 percent zinc.  There is to date no archaeological evidence that cementation brass was ever produced in Japan.

 

 Zinc ore was evidently first identified in Japan in 1878 by a Meiji Government advisor named John Milne. Extraction began in 1903.

The notion that the earliest brass used on tsuba came from China as coinage is refuted by analysis of Chinese coins spanning the past 2000 years. Prior to the Wanli Period (1573 - 1620) Chinese coins did contain small amounts of zinc but these are very variable and generally less than 10%. There is always a greater percentage of tin and lead present which would render the alloy useless for making wire or forging into usable sheet after remelting. Remelting alloys containing zinc burns off +/- 15% of the zinc.  Zinc content of Chinese coins does increase dramatically in the late Wanli period, due to the development of zinc distillation at that time in China, but the coins continue to contain lead and tin in significant percentages.

I recently carried out analysis work on 44 examples of Onin, Heianjo and Kaga/Yoshiro inlaid tsuba. The results were surprisingly uniform across all samples with the zinc content being roughly 1/3rd. Traces of lead were found but those are consistent with what we would expect to find in the most well refined Japanese copper of the Edo period. Japanese copper was regarded as the purest copper in the world in the Early Edo period, a fact noted as far away as Scandinavia at the time. This reasonably conclusively demonstrates that these particular examples were all made with pure metallic zinc that was carefully measured to produce a consistent alloy. This alloy, made with metallic zinc, we call spelter brass.

 

It has been demonstrated reasonably convincingly that by the 17th century (1600's) Portuguese traders out of Macao and Chinese merchants in Canton where involved in exporting zinc to Japan.  By 1637 this trade involved more than 180 000kg a year.

There is obviously a lot more to the story but all of that will fill a good chapter of a book…

 

 

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#8 Steve Waszak

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 05:34 PM

Fascinating stuff, Ford.  Most intrigued to know more... :clap:


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#9 JohnTo

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Posted 27 July 2017 - 05:46 PM

Hi Ford,

Thanks for the science regarding brass.  Looks like Heianjo etc brass inlay is younger than many have previously thought. As a retired chemist I love to see science and archaeology getting together.  In my own part of the world we have the Amesbury Archer burial.  Radiocarbon dates it to about 2,300 BC.  Oxygen isotope analysis shows he came from the Alps.  The copper of his knife blades came from Spain and the gold of his earings from the somewhere else on the continent.  So much info to be gained.  Look forward to your book on Japanese metalurgy.

 

Best regards, John



#10 zanilu

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 10:28 AM

Ford what you are saying is really interesting :clap: .

 

The results of your studies go against the  "common wisdom" for Heianjo and Onin tsuba, especially for Onin. This also clash with all the attribution to Pre Edo eras and all the considerations made for such attributions! I mean all considerations about shape, thickness, quality of the iron, hardness of the iron, shape of the hitsu-ana and so on often used to give an era attribution not considering the age of the brass patina. Unless we embrace the notion that all the Onin and Iron tsuba with a pre-Edo attributed age are made in Edo period by inlaying pre-existing iron only tsuba.

 

If we have to revise our dating of Onin and Heianjo tsuba according to your studies then we have, forcibly for the sake of the scientific method,  to  put under question also the aforementioned criteria. This would have a major impact on our small world of collector and amateurs of Japanese tososgu :doh:!

 

Regards

Luca


Luca


#11 Ford Hallam

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 11:16 AM

Luca

 

your observations are spot on. It was this realisation some months ago that forced me to be so thorough in this aspect of my research.


My work would have been very much easier if the claims for the present accepted dates for early brass inlay was supported by any evidence. Unfortunately there simply isn't any to be found.


There may well yet come to light a group of Onin or Heianjo pieces that do feature brass inlay made from zinc ore but the actual social and economic events of the times suggest to me that this would be unlikely.


My own view, at this stage, is that rather than being high status items these early (Edo) brass inlay pieces in fact reflect the desire of the lower ranks of the warrior class to add a bit of style and flair to their swords, but necessarily on a budget.

Prior to the development of the distillation process to extract zinc the earlier cementation brass was only really used for religious and ritual objects. The Chinese ranked it after gold and silver but before copper and iron. It was understood not to be gold but rather 'improved copper'. With the industrial production of zinc that all changed and brass became quite commonplace.


I have a bit to say about iron and steel production, the material's structure and the matter of heat treatment too. I'm afraid this area may require some reconsideration too


  ;-)


 

 


#12 Valric

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 01:07 PM

Please share! This is extremely interesting. Thank you. 


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#13 zanilu

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 02:15 PM

Ford the more you say on the subject the more I am eager to read your book!

 

Luca


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#14 Steve Waszak

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 06:27 PM

Ford,

 

Good stuff, once again.  I have a question for you, even though it is purely speculative:  what do you imagine has led scholars (or "scholars") of the past to settle on the Muromachi or Momoyama periods as the time of production for Onin and Heianjo guards?  Of course, I realize that the same forces have likely been at work here as are responsible for the dating of all sorts of other unsigned early-ish tsuba, but I'm wondering if there might be something specific about Onin and/or Heianjo works that could/would have had these scholars zeroing in on a Muromachi or Momoyama dating.  I guess what I'm thinking of specifically here is whether something having to do with inlay technique, inlay style, brass availability, etc... may have led to such dating.  Or, conversely, was there something they saw in the plates, rather than the inlay, that directed them to their conclusions? 

 

Again, I know all of this is speculative, but such speculation has implications for many other types of tsuba beside Onin and Heianjo, and so is worth dabbling in, methinks.  ;-)


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#15 Steve Waszak

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 06:31 PM

Quick follow-up question, Ford, if this doesn't intrude on your book content too much:

 

Your posts here have concentrated primarily on available Chinese technology;  what is known about advanced zinc ore extraction/distillation in other cultures of the 16th century?  In other words, might there have been another culture (India?) where advanced zinc processing technology may have existed and then reached Japan via all the helter-skelter trade occurring in the late 1500s?  If this is a special chapter in your book, just tell me to shut up and buy your book... :glee:


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#16 Ford Hallam

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 07:19 PM

Hi Steve, yes this is an extended section in the book... but I don't mind sharing broad strokes :-)

Metallic zinc was also being made in Zawar in Northern India, by some account as early at the 10th century. This was a different process from that of the Chinese.

However that centre of production was fully under a  Monopoly of Muslim traders operating out of Alexandria. This is remarkably well documented and why the Portuguese were so intent on finding an alternative route to India other that down the Red Sea.

The Portuguese finally do get involved, under Vasco DaGama, in trade out of India by the early 16th century 1300 miles to the South in Goa.There has been some speculation that the Portuguese may have been involved in metals trade but there is no actual material evidence to support this. By the early 17th century production at Zawar had declined so much that India was importing zinc from China.

Portuguese trade with Japan properly only begins in 1571 and consists largely of luxury goods like silk and porcelain from China. Official Japanese trade with China had ended in 1549 so the Portuguese were acting as intermediaries.


 

 


#17 Steve Waszak

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 07:36 PM

Thanks, Ford.  thumbs%20up.gif   Really looking forward to the book.  Any estimated date as to its publication/availability? 


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#18 christianmalterre

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Posted 28 July 2017 - 09:32 PM

it somehow does remind me so to read old posts from  good old John :) here....

 

:thumbsup:

 

( And!- he was right!- of course!)


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#19 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 29 July 2017 - 02:14 AM

Yes, Ford, since my extensive collection consists primarily of Onin/Yoshiro/Heianjo tsuba, your book will be a necessary part of my library!

 

Pete, I have an NBTHK-papered Heianjo, but will have to figure out the date.

 

Ken

 



#20 Ford Hallam

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Posted 29 July 2017 - 04:37 PM

Steve

 

Your guess is as good as mine as to why 'scholars' in this field decided on the Onin period for the production of said guards. (as one example) . Ultimately those that make such a claim must provide reasoning and evidence to back that claim.  All I can do if follow what evidence there is and draw my own conclusions. Then again, to be fair, we have a far more detailed picture now of Japan's pre-Edo period than the early tsuba Sensei would have had at the end of the 19th century. No doubt much of what they were working from was more akin to folk lore and legend than the sort of academic research we expect today.


This is a brief description of the Onin wars, taken from my own text but based on the work of a contemporary specialist Historian. Does this environment sound like the likely creative hotbed that saw the birth of a flash new decoration using the very latest import material from abroad? In fact the political and economic situation across the country and for the following 100 years, the Warring  States Era, was pretty desperate with ongoing warfare and theft of crops by essentially parasitic troops that left the population starving and in continual fear for their lives. Periodic crop failures and epidemics of disease added to the chaos. Between 1450 and 1540 there was a 9 year smallpox epidemic, in some villages wiping out 50% of the inhabitants,  seven years of measles and two of a deadly strain of influenza...not a good time to get ill. This was the most prolonged and devastating period of war in Japan's history.
 

During the decade long Onin War (1467 - 1477), eastern and western camps of alliances vying for control of the country fought a ferocious campaign of urban warfare that ravaged the city of Kyoto with fire, looting, wholesale slaughter and rape. By the end of the first year of conflict the northern half of the city lay in complete ruin. Commerce had ceased and large numbers of the population had fled to the countryside seeking safety and food. Those who remained built walls around their trapped communities in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from the marauding armies. By 1477, after 4 years of stalemate and both army's commanders dead the fighters withdrew and went home, leaving Kyoto a “burned-out shell of it’s former self.”
Ref: Japan to 1600, A Social and Economic History. William Wayne Farris.2009.

 

 

 


 

 


#21 Steve Waszak

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Posted 29 July 2017 - 06:32 PM

Hi Ford,

 

Thanks for that.  What I'm encouraged by with your work here is the marriage of objective analyses and the weighing of cultural/historical contexts to more carefully fine-tune our efforts to understand these works.  Too often in the world of sword studies (and the publications concerned), I have seen what I think is too myopic a view in which essentially the only things looked at are the pieces themselves.  You do make a good point regarding our access to knowledge now versus what may have been available to scholars or other interested parties 150 years ago, but too often I haven't seen even an attempt made to take into account larger cultural and historical contexts.  Your example of the Onin period is illustrative, I think, of how necessary it is to consider the likelihood of traditional understandings/teachings given the particulars of a context.

 

What you are doing here with your book certainly appears to be taking cultural/historical contexts into account. :clap:   Another example of doing so that I feel is necessary would be studying the intricacies of chanoyu and its associate aesthetic principles in seeking to better understand many of the tsuba made in Momoyama times.  When such considerations can then also be combined with modern technical analyses, as you're doing, the way to a (far?) better understanding of what these pieces are, how they functioned socio-culturally when they were made, and how they were made looks very promising.  Kudos again, Ford. thumbs%20up.gif


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