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Unusual Kaga Yoshiro/heianjo Tsuba


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#1 JohnTo

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 03:57 PM

The term ‘Yoshiro Mon Tsuba’ seems to have become a generic term to describe iron tsuba inlaid with brass sukashi mon (crests, badges) and no longer seems to refer to the famous master of the school, Koike Yoshiro Naomasa, who lived in the third quarter of the 16th century.  I am not a great admirer of brass inlay tsuba (preferring gold, silver, etc), but have been fortunate to have acquired some examples of brass inlay amongst job lots at recent auctions.  I thought that I would share some observations on my latest purchase, catalogued as ‘Kaga Yoshiro’.

The iron base of the tsuba is eight-lobed, rather than the normal round shape (8.0 cm high, 8.0 cm wide, 0.4cm thick) with a background inlay of water weed (with the usual loss of some of the inlay, less than 10%, which, as I have previously posted, I put down to galvanic corrosion).  There are eight brass sukashi mon inlays, each inside a brass ring and the tsuba has the normal pair of kogai-kodzuka hitsu ana, also rimmed with brass.  Like most Yoshiro tsuba it is unsigned (mumei).  Trawling through various websites, books and old sale catalogues, I noticed two unusual features about this particular tsuba, namely the shape and method of inlay.

Out of 21 tsuba that I located, 18 of them were round, one slightly rectangular with rounded corners, one mokko and one cruciform (signed Koike Yoshiro).  No other tsuba had the 8-lobed shape of this one. I think that Yoshiro tsuba were made primarily in Kaga and Bizen provinces and signed examples that I found were inscribed ‘Koike Yoshiro’, ‘Goto Hashichiro’, ‘Hirata Doden’, ‘Saburota’ of Bizen and ‘Saburodai’ of Bizen.  The Goto signature (if genuine) indicating that this type of tsuba was also made elsewhere.  I noticed that although most examples were labelled Kaga Yoshiro, some were Bizen Yoshiro. In general, those attributed to Bizen seemed to have more rectangular hitsu ana (is this a kantei point for attribution or did someone assign such a tsuba to Bizen and others just followed suit?)  The only multi-lobed monsukashi tsuba I found were all iron.  Sasano, #269, shows a 10-lobed example attributed to 1st generation Masashichi of the Hayashi school and another was attributed to Higo Hayashi Matahei.  Is mine a rare example, representing less than 5% of an admittedly small population?

The other unusual feature is the sukashi mon inlay themselves.  In my ignorance of tsuba inlay practices I had assumed that these tsuba were all made by hammering a slightly undersized piece of solid brass into the round holes in the iron plate resulting in a tight fit, polishing the surface flat and then piercing the sukashi mon design.  This technique is described in the Nihon To Koza VI, page 21.  Evidently this was done in most of the examples that I came across as the rim of the mon varies in thickness and is evidently part of the overall design (see example in Additional Information document).

One of the mon in my example (at the 2 o/clock position) is set slightly back from the surface of the brass rim at the front and stands proud at the back (less than 1 mm).  Obviously the mon has been prepared separately and hammered into position with the brass ring around the hole having been inserted previously.  The inlay has slipped or been put in sloppily.  Evidence for this observation also appears in the joins in the brass rings, which can be seen in some of the inlay.  To add further weight to this observation, I found a tsuba for sale in which the entire inlay mon appeared to had fallen out, or been removed, leaving just the brass rings.  This tsuba had been awarded a NBTHK Hozon and was described as Kuyomonsukashi Mizumochirashizu ’, which I painfully translated from the Hozon as Kuyo-mon sukashi with scattered water weed, the Kuyo mon being the 9 luminaries or celestial bodies, the crest of the Hosokawa clan (the ninth being a larger central circle, not actually delineated in this or my tsuba, but presumably represented by the seppa dai).  The Hozon certificate seems to identify the tsuba as mumei Heianjo, not Yoshiro.  I thought that it strange that this tsuba was awarded a Hozon when the mon were missing, but I assume that the NBTHK decided that this was the original design.  My tsuba has the same water weed design as this one, so is mine a Heianjo tsuba originally with the Hosokawa kamon that was converted to a Yoshiro design at a later time by hammering in the brass crests?  A copy of the NBTHK certificate and Hosokawa kamon is in the Additional Information.

So what initially appeared to be just another standard Kaga Yoshiro tsuba has given me hours of investigative pleasure and raised a few questions.  

A final question. The inner sides of the inlay are covered with verdigris (and brass polish?). Is it OK to clean the sukashi with a dental flossing brush to remove loose material, or should I leave alone as part of the age patina of the tsuba?

As always, comments on my observations welcome.

Regards, John

(Just a guy making observations, asking questions and trying to learn)

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#2 John A Stuart

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 04:53 PM

Good observational analysis. If the verdigris is able to be brushed off without harming the stable patina, I would do so. John



#3 Robin

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 05:22 PM

Imho the NBTHK certified tsuba isn't a Hoskawa mon tsuba, but a tsuba with missing inserts. :dunno:

 

I like yours a lot!

 

Robin



#4 JohnTo

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 02:33 PM

Hi Robin,

I'm inclined to agree with you, its a Yoshiro tsuba with missing inserts, but who am I to disagree with the NBTHK?  However the first three characters of the Hozon 九曜紋 translates as ku.yo.mon, literally nine day mon.  There are only 8 holes, so the ninth must be the central circle (seppa dai) and refer to the Hosokawa kamon.  It also has the phrase 無銘 平安城象嵌 mumei Heianjo zogan, unsigned Heianjo inlay.  OK, Yoshiro was an offshoot of the Heianjo school, but why not describe it as a Yoshiro tsuba with missing inlay, and why award an incomplete tsuba a Hozon?  One reason may be that my Google translator gives the following vendor's description (cleaned up a bit).  'The Heianjo tsuba were popular because of its gaudiness, but many of the brass inlay have fallen out, and those with no inlay missing, like this work, are rare'.  I think that this implies that it is the water weed inlay that tends to fall out, not the mon inserts.  If the original design was to have empty holes, I think it looks ugly.  This tsuba is on sale for £940, mine cost about 1/5th of that and I know which one I would prefer.

 

Regards, John


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#5 Jean

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 12:39 AM

My Yoshiro, similar to yours

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#6 Steve Waszak

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 03:05 AM

Hi John,

 

Your original post mentions that Koike Yoshiro Naomasa lived in the third quarter of the 16th century.  From what I've read, he was more of a late-16th century/early 17th-century man.  Could you offer your source for this early dating?  Thanks.

 

Steve


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#7 JohnTo

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 04:32 PM

Hi Jean,

Nice tsuba.

Your Yoshiro looks as if it came out of the same workshop as mine, the background water weed inlay and some of the mon are virtually identical.  Like mine, the mon look as if they have been inserted into rings rather than carved from a solid block.  Interestingly, the axis of your tsuba is rotated 1/16th of a turn to mine, with a round bit at the top.  I wonder if the craftsmen who made it used blanks with the 8 holes drilled in and added the nagako ana afterwards, rotating the tsuba for a bit of variation.  Guess mine no longer represents less than 5% of a small population, it's 10% now.

 

Thanks for the posting and pic.

 

Regards, John


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#8 JohnTo

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 04:35 PM

Hi Steve,

I got the information regarding Koike Yoshiro Naomasa from the Henry D. Rosin Collection of Japanese Sword Fittings catalogue, published by Patrick Syz (SYZ 1993) and written, largely by John Harding.  Item 21 is a gorgeous round inlaid tsuba signed Koike Yoshiro and inscribed ‘Tenka Ichi’ (the best under Heaven), indicating that he regarded this as his best work.  The blurb underneath states the he became master of the Yoshiro School sometime during the third quarter of the 16thC and that his only known dated work is Tensho 3 (1575).  It doesn’t say if this work was signed (or where it is currently located), but, as I gather that his signed work was made-to-order only, it would seem strange to date a piece, but not sign it.  Also, if his earliest signed piece was 1575 and he only signed special order tusba, once he was famous, he must have started making (unsigned) tsuba at least 10 years before.

 

Regards, John



#9 Steve Waszak

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 07:02 PM

Hi John,

 

Thanks for the detailed response.  Very interesting.  I would certainly agree that the dated piece would very likely carry a signature, too, if for no other reason that it would be hard to know for sure that the tsuba was made by him if it weren't signed.  If it were not signed, however, the inscribed date may be spurious.

 

There were only a very few tsubako who regularly inscribed their names as early as the 1570s, so your information here is quite intriguing.

 

In your research, did you find any mention of Naomasa's being affiliated with or serving under any particular lord? 

 

I would also be curious to know Ford's thoughts on this artist and on the matter of his working period, given Ford's research into earliest brass inlay in tsuba.  ;-)

 

Thanks again, John.

 

Cheers,

 

Steve


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#10 JohnTo

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Posted Yesterday, 01:00 PM

Hi Steve,

I found a useful item with a lot of info regarding brass inlay tsuba, mainly Onin, but it is a pretty extensive review of publications from the year dot to the present. http://varshavskycol...com/onin-tsuba/

Here are a few bits that may be interesting;

The Field Museum’s treatise on Japanese sword-mounts published in 1923 was the first academic book on the matter[6]. Section V (pp. 53-59) is titled “Early inlays: Ōnin, Fushimi, Yoshiro, Tempō. Heianjō, Kaga, Gomoku Zōgan, Shōami, and Awa”.  I’m assuming that the below was extracted from this

The name Yoshirō is derived from that of Koike Yoshirō who also signed his work Naomasa with the title Izumi-no-Kami, and who must have originated this style of decoration. M. de Tressan cites a tsuba with the signature of Yoshirō and the date 1533. It is in collection of M. Jacoby of Berlin.  My Note: This might be the 1575 tsuba that I mentioned earlier.  1532 is Tenbun 2 whereas 1575 is Tensho 3, simple mistake as both dates use the same kanji for Ten and 1532 sounds a bit early?

Then, in 1983, Robert E. Haynes published his Catalog №5, which provided extensive description of the early brass inlay schools and techniques. A large paragraph deals with the matter of our interest: “Ōnin tsuba. The term Ōnin tsuba is well known. The full term for the two types of Ōnin tsuba are, Ōnin shinchū suemon-zōgan tsuba, and Onin shinchū ten-zōgan tsuba. […] Both types were made in Kyoto (prior to the making of Heianjō-zōgan tsuba in Kyoto) from Ōnin era (1467-1468) to the Tenmon era (1532-1554), a period of about ninety yers, though there are cast brass inlaid tsuba of the Edo age which seem to be the last vestiges of the school. The date of the introduction and use of brass inlay (domestic or imported) is now thought to be well before 1467, say circa 1375-1400.

Since tradition decreed that brass was first imported from China in the Eikyo era (1429-1441)…

In 1991 Graham Gemmell published a book “Tosogu. Treasure of the samurai“, which dedicated a few paragraphs to Ōnin tsuba, and provided a few excellent illustrations:

“Onin. In simple terms Onin works are decorated Ko-Katchushi tsuba. … But, not content with iron alone, they began to decorate it with what was, in the early Muromachi period, a rare and valuable metal, brass. The Onin workers cut the design into the iron, using narrow channels, cast the brass, piece by piece, and then hammered it into the iron plate as though they were putting together a jigsaw. When complete the tsuba would be black lacquered exactly as the plain iron ones had been, the brass shining dully through it in a way that fulfilled the goal of shibui or restrained elegance.”

I assume that your reference to Ford’s work with brass inlay is his challenge to the early date of brass inlay, as his research indicates that zinc was not really available in Japan until the 17thC.  One of the above references indicates pre-1400.  One interesting line of research that I would like to see undertaken is based on the note that early Onin tsuba were lacquered.  If there is an old tsuba out there with the lacquer peeling off, about 1 mg would be sufficient for a radiocarbon dating (not sure who would pay, a bit expensive!).  This would provide the latest date when the tsuba could have been made (actually the date when the lacquer was applied).  Not sure that this would change the mind of everyone, after all radiocarbon dating puts the Turin shroud at 1260-1390 AD, but some still maintain it is 1stC AD!

 

Cheers, John



#11 Ford Hallam

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Posted Yesterday, 07:41 PM

Without writing a mini thesis here I'll simply offer what I can with regard to these Yoshiro mon style guards and their brass inlay/insets.

 

I've analysed the brass in a reasonably representative number of these types and the results are fairly consistent. 

 

Here are 9 examples I did at the V&A. 

https://photos.app.g...1LzUE5olRy70oT2

 

The zinc content ranged between 25 and 30%. This is unequivocal evidence that the brass was made by adding metallic zinc to the copper. Adding zinc ore, like calamine, will only result in a maximum (after repeated melts) of 20%, generally less than that. 

 

When adding metallic zinc to copper and melting, or remelting brass itself, we must allow for a 15% zinc loss due to vaporisation.  This then gives us, in the samples analysed, starting zinc percentages of 28.75 to 34.5%  This composition, roughly 1/3rd zinc to 2/3rds copper, was in fact a standard brass alloy in China by the middle of the 17th century and is recorded is a number of period texts.

 

Zinc ore was not identified in Japan until the very end of the 19th century and only mined and the metallic zinc distilled out at the beginning of the 20th cent.

 

Therefore I can say with a high degree of certainty that the sample Yoshiro tsuba I've analysed  carry brass made with metallic zinc. The zinc and/or brass came from China as India at that time was herself trying to get zinc and brass from China, their own supplies having been exhausted. The process of distilling metallic zinc from zinc ores in China developed in the Wanli period (1573 - 1620) of the Ming Dynasty.  This was by order of the government in response to the need to produce coinage and the need for accurate control of the alloying processes. It should be noted though that the development and adoption of the metallic zinc production technology was gradual and based on the analysis of brass coins of the period (the whole object of zinc production) we only really see the full scale use of metallic zinc by 1621 when records no longer mention lead or tin additions but only copper and zinc.

 
It has been demonstrated reasonably convincingly that by the 17th century 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 of zinc a year.
 

 

I haven't had the chance to analyse many Onin guards but those I have also reveal a zinc content ( more than 30%) that makes it clear the brass was made with metallic zinc , so most probably also very late 16th cent at the earliest but more probably early 17th century.

 

Of course it's possible that brass was being used at an earlier date in Japan but if we want to make that claim we need to show from where and how the brass got there. If a material analysis shows the zinc content to be more more than 20% ( a theoretical maximum of 22% has been claimed) then it can only be post 1573 at the very earliest.

 

My view at present is that to begin with (early 17th cent) the Chinese didn't export the zinc but rather sold ready made brass, this would have made far more sense commercially by making their merger copper supplies go further and capitalising on the evident market in Japan for this exciting 'new' alloy. By the mid 17th century we know there was a good trade in metallic zinc to Japan from Canton and Macao.

Looking at known trade contact and trade goods, it seems to me that the general introduction of brass into the Japanese metalworking culture most probably started at the beginning of the 17th century.

 

I would also like to mention that in China, while brass had long been made by means of adding zinc ore to the molten copper this alloy was used almost exclusively for religious and ceremonial objects by the Imperial court. Brass being regarded more highly than iron and copper and that the alchemical process of transmuting base copper into gold, by means of the zinc ore, meant that the resulting alloy was now more purified and 'evolved' according to Taoist thinking. I'm of the opinion that this idea that brass was 'nearly gold' came with the alloy to Japan and that the alloy was appreciated for its bright yellow shine, just like gold.


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#12 Steve Waszak

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Posted Yesterday, 10:41 PM

Hi John,

 

Thanks for your post here.  All interesting stuff.  My particular interest in this topic concerns Naomasa's dates, though, more than the typing or categorizing of Onin guards. 

 

I remain dubious about this tsuba maker's working dates being any earlier than late-Momoyama.  The tsuba you reference dated to 1533 is certainly eyebrow-raising:  I have to think there is an error here somewhere, or simply represents an attempt to deceive.  The article on Onin tsuba you provide the link to notes that Naomasa's "name is found, sometimes genuine, sometimes forged..."  Given the esteem Naomasa's work was apparently held in, the notion that his signature (including dates?) could have been added later to mumei pieces isn't much of a stretch.  So I don't find the tsuba dated to 1575 necessarily very compelling as hard and fast evidence, either.

 

Another consideration here concerns the cultural and aesthetic climate of the time.  Compared to the relatively austere sensibilities of Muromachi years, the Momoyama Period was far more flamboyant and alive with experiment and exuberance of expression.  Yoshiro tsuba fit this context much better than they would a 1550s or 1560s dating, in my view. 

 

Then there is Ford's very intriguing work in researching brass availability and use in 16th-17th century Japan (many thanks for this post, Ford!  ;-)  ).  Putting all of this together, it is hard for me to see Naomasa's working period beginning  any earlier than the 1580s at the very earliest, with the 1590s more likely, assuming the Hideyoshi quote is legitimate.  If the Hideyoshi quote is apocryphal, then I could see Naomasa's working period being even later by a decade or two. 

 

Cheers,

 

Steve


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#13 Henry Wilson

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Posted Today, 04:50 AM

Thank you for the interesting post Ford.  It got me thinking and as a result I re-visited my library and found the two related articles below. 

 

I wonder if the development of brass was connected to the search for precious metals.  The first article (China’s emerging demand and development of a key base metal: Zinc in the Ming and early Qing, c. 1400–1680s) seems to suggest this as at the top of p. 178 it states that calamine (zinc bearing ore) was connected to the search for artificial gold and silver.  Could the so-called great depression of the 15th century started all this?

 

I hope you don't mind asking these questions to help me digest your post.

 

Attached File  Zinc in the Ming and early Qing.pdf   707.06KB   5 downloads

 

Attached File  Time, Money, and the Weather Ming China and the Great Depression of the Mid Fifteenth Century.pdf   2.88MB   3 downloads

 


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#14 John A Stuart

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Posted Today, 06:28 AM

Brass was used in the early 5th century BC in China and were widely used in central Asia by the 2nd and 3rd century BCE and the Roman empire circa 200 BCE and was in large supply in China long before distillation smelting of zinc became possible. Copper and zinc ores smelted together were the source of early brasses. The zinc reacted with the copper and was not lost. The fact is the smelting of  free metal zinc was discovered long after the smelting technology of brass an alloy of copper and zinc. We know there was a relationship between China and Japan (Han and Yamato) in the1st century CE and much to and fro trade during the Tang, why not brass alloys? John






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