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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


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#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 18 January 2018 - 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 18 January 2018 - 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 18 January 2018 - 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 (as you have suggested), 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 19 January 2018 - 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   27 downloads

 

Attached File  Time, Money, and the Weather Ming China and the Great Depression of the Mid Fifteenth Century.pdf   2.88MB   53 downloads

 


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#14 John A Stuart

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 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



#15 JohnTo

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Posted 19 January 2018 - 06:49 PM

Hi everyone, especially Ford and Henry for their contributions regarding zinc and brass.

Its good to see that there is so much scholarly debate on the Notice Board, that’s what drives knowledge forward.  As a retired scientist I still love to do research. I often feel that the Japanese feel inhibited to challenge established doctrine, as it would be considered impolite to question the validity of their teachers’ words, e.g.  ‘Tanaka sensei said, in 1750, that…., So that is the view that I will accept as true.’  Maybe I’m being unfair, especially to the younger generation.

It seems from the above contributions that although the Chinese made brass prior to about 1600, it was made by roasting copper with zinc ores, e.g. calamine, a mixture of zinc salts, which gave rise to a brass with a maximum zinc content of about 22%.  It was only after about 1600, when metallic zinc was available that making brass with zinc content above 30% was possible.  The Yoshiro tsuba examined by Ford have a zinc content of 25 - 30% and so were made after 1600, if made from Chinese brass.  There seems to be some evidence of high zinc content brass being made in places like the Roman Empire, India and Afghanistan long before that, but, if true, the chances of that metal reaching Japan and being used in tsuba must be remote.

Zinc actually consists of 5 stable isotopes.  The distribution of isotopes in some metals e.g. lead, strontium, varies throughout the world and has been used to determine the origin of some ancient artefacts not in their original locale.  I have not been able to find out if this is also true of zinc; besides mass spectral analysis of brass may be beyond the present scientific curiosity and funding in the world of tsuba.

I have mentioned above that lacquer could be used for radiocarbon dating.  So too can iron.  For example, Yoshindo Kajihara  gave the tang of a tanto dated 1539 for such dating, which came back in line with this date.  The charcoal from smelting iron is the source of carbon and can be more that 1% of steel.  Less than 1g of steel is need for dating, so if someone has an Onin tsuba that is well past its best….

And final, Ford; Thanks for the additional pics of Yoshiro tsuba.  None of them were 8-lobed like mine and Jean’s, so I guess that increases their rarity to less than 10% again.

Best regards, John


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#16 JohnTo

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Posted 14 February 2018 - 06:53 PM

Hi everyone, some more debate regarding the date of the introduction of brass.

In my last post I highlighted the difference between Japanese and Western students in that the latter are less inhibited to challenge the teachings of their mentors.  With this in mind, I would like to raise some questions regarding the validity of Ford-sensei’s assumption that Heinanjo, Yoshiro, etc, brass inlay tsuba cannot predate about 1650, as the ones that he examined at the V&A contained 25-30% zinc. (He did not test Onin tsuba, which are generally accepted to be the earliest brass inlay tsuba).  Ford’s supposition appears to be that Japan imported its brass from China and that until about 1650, when metallic zinc became available, Chinese brass only contained about a maximum of 20% zinc due to the limitations of smelting copper and zinc ore.

 

I am not a metallurgist, just someone seeking information via the Internet, much of which I acknowledge may be incorrect.  I am also aware that my knowledge of Japanese metallurgy is miniscule compared to Ford’s, but in the interest of scientific debate, here goes:

 

 The assumption that brass with zinc content above 20% cannot be produced by smelting with copper and zinc ores appears to be incorrect.  It has been known for a long time that smelting copper, charcoal and calamine (zinc oxide) in a closed crucible results in brass with a maximum zinc content of 28% (some literature references gave over 30%).  The cementation process, as it is known, allows the zinc vapour to diffuse into the copper and produce a higher zinc content brass.  Part of an article by J.S. Kharakwal, PhD is shown below and refers to brass production in India.

 

Brass has been used in England for making brass plates to let into the stone floors covering tombs in churches.  About 4000 of these monumental brasses are known to be extant, showing information and images of the deceased, thereby allowing them to be dated pretty accurately.  Many date from the 14thC and some are even earlier. All these are well documented, but do you think I can find any information regarding the zinc content of these brasses, can I heck as like.  It seems that I live only about 50 miles west of one of the biggest mediaeval brass production areas, Somerset (see article below from Vin Callcut).  While I am not suggesting English brass was used in tsuba, I include this to show that making brass with zinc content over 25% was known in much of the world prior to 1600 AD.

 

I have just located a technical bulletin by Reinzink a major producer of zinc (History of Zinc, its Production and Usage Dr. Marinanne Schönnenbeck/Frank Neumann) that shows diagrams of metallic zinc (yes, metallic) being produced in India in the 12thC and in China in the 17thC .

 

Then we have the assumption that the brass used in tsuba was Chinese.  The Portuguese landed in Tanegashima in 1542 and soon established a trading post.  For more than 20 years previously they had been trading Portuguese silver for cotton and spices in India (Goa) and silk in China.  It would have been easy for them to pick up Indian brass and then take it to Japan to trade for silk.  I expect that other South East Asian traders were also trading between India and Japan before then.  Ford said that Indian brass production was in sharp decline around this time, in which case maybe the Portuguese were trading European brass as well as silver.

 

In summary.  Brass with zinc content of 28%, maybe more, was available before the rediscovery of metallic zinc in the 17thC, using the cementation process, which seems to have been widely known in countries west of India. Ford may be correct in that use of brass with zinc levels above 20% in Japan awaited the importation of high quality brass from China, made from metallic zinc, in the 17thC, but it seems equally possible to me that brass with zinc in the 25-28% range, produced by the cementation process, was available before then.  I still have an open mind as to the 100 year discrepancy of the dates for the earliest Heianjo brass inlaid tsuba (Japanese scholars: 1550, Ford: 1650)

 

Literature Info:

 

"Zinc Production in Ancient India" by J.S. Kharakwal, PhD

The metal using cultures appeared in the Indian sub-continent around 6th millennium BCE. Subsequently, copper metallurgy is well attested to at various sites by the 4th millennium. Besides copper-bronze, these ancient societies were also aware of various other metals like gold, silver, tin. Even deliberate production of iron goes beyond the 1st millennium BCE. Compared to the great antiquity of these metals, in ahistorical perspective, regular production of zinc and brass and distillation of zinc is very late. Zinc is a difficult and enigmatic metal. In the earliest cementation process finely divided copper fragments were mixed with roasted zinc ore (oxide) and charcoal (a reducing agent), and heated to1000°C in a sealed crucible. The zinc vapour thus formed dissolved into the copper fragments yielding a poor quality brass, zinc percentage of which could not be easily controlled. Reduction around 1000°C is crucially important as below 950°C no zinc is produced. If the temperature was raised above 1083°C, copper melted and flowed down to the bottom of the crucible. Because of such properties, pure zinc smelting was mastered so late. Zinc was largely used in manufacturing brass. It seems that there has been some confusion about early occurrences of zinc, brass and zinc extraction by distillation process. Brass, an alloy of zinc and copper, is known for a long time and can be produced accidentally as has been reported from China and West Asia. In India also there are examples of brass from Lothal and Atranjikhera in 3rd and 2nd Millennia contexts. The ancient Persians attempted to reduce zinc oxide in an open furnace but they failed. In fact zinc distillation was an advanced technique, perhaps derived from Ayurvedic

preparations and a longexperience of alchemy. Regular zinc production in China began only in 16th Century AD, which was perhaps based on the Indian technique. It required heating the zinc ore in a controlled manner and then condensing the vapours through a retort in a receptacle. The earliest 14C dates (uncalibrated) for the Zawar mines are PRL 932, 430+100 BCE and BM 2381,380+ 50 BCE. Old workings at Rajpura-Dariba (375 BCE) and Rampura-Agucha (370 BCE) confirm the mining of lead-zinc ores in the southern Rajasthan during the fifth-fourth centuries BCE onwards. It has been demonstrated experimentally that brass produced by the cementation process could not contain more than 28 percent zinc. For producing higher zinc content brass, one requires pure zinc to be mixed with copper, which could have been possible only after discovery of zinc as a separate metal and its preparation by a process such as distillation. Though there is considerable amount of literature available on archaeo metallurgy, particularly on copper and iron technologies, there is very little literature on zinc, barring few papers by Craddock and his collaborators on zinc and brass. The discovery of zinc distillation was a momentous invention and a remarkable contribution of India in the global history of science and technology.

 

By Vin Callcut

As mentioned, in medieval times there was no source of pure zinc. When Swansea, in South Wales, was effectively the centre of the world's copper industry, brass was made in Britain from calamine found in the Mendip hills in Somerset. China, Germany, Holland and Sweden had brass making industries with good reputations for quality. Brass was popular for church monuments, thin plates being let in to stone floors and inscribed to commemorate the dead. These usually contained 23-29% of zinc, frequently with small quantities of lead and tin as well. On occasions, some were recycled by being turned over and re-cut.

 

History of Zinc, its Production and Usage Dr. Marinanne Schönnenbeck/Frank Neumann

 

Early production and usage in India and China Metallic zinc was produced in India around 1200 AD, and the process is described as the production of a new metal similar to tin. It involved heating the zinc ore indirectly with charcoal in a covered crucible. This produced zinc vapour, which was cooled by the ambient air in a condensation recipient underneath the crucible. This is how metallic zinc was formed.

 

By 1374 zinc had been recognised by the Hindus as a new metal, the eighth known in that day and age, and zinc production and trading was already underway on a limited scale.

 

Fig. 1: In India around 1200 AD metallic zinc was produced in a covered crucible. From there it passed into a condensation recipient, where it was cooled by the ambient air. (according to Habashi)

SORRY CAN’T COPY PICTURE, BUT I CAN SCAN IT, IF ANYONE IS INTERESTED.

Fig. 2: Production of zinc in 17th century China, using crucibles stacked into pyramids with charcoal between the spaces. After being heated until it was red-hot and subsequent cooling, the slag was broken apart to find the zinc in the middle. (according to Habashi)

SORRY CAN’T COPY PICTURE, BUT I CAN SCAN IT, IF ANYONE IS INTERESTED.


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#17 Ford Hallam

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Posted 14 February 2018 - 09:10 PM

Hi John

 

can you point to these Japanese scholars and the evidence they rely on for their datings please?


 

 


#18 JohnTo

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Posted 15 February 2018 - 12:37 PM

Hi Ford

Good question and I plead guilty to have fallen into the trap of assuming that the generally accepted dates for brass inlay work in the West must have originated from Japan.  Perhaps some smart Japanese tsuba salesman in the 19thC wanted to offload a number of brass inlay tsuba to Western collectors, told them that they were 16thC to push up the price and so the attribution stuck.

 

Like most western collectors I have few Japanese reference works on tsuba due to my poor understanding of Japanese.  I have three by Japanese authors, namely the two Sasano sukashi tsuba books and the Nihon To Koza, vol VI.  Sasano does not talk about anything that is not 100% iron.  Not a trace of inlay in sight in his books.  The only mention of dates for Heianjo/Yoshiro works in the Nihon To Koza that I can find is for Yoshiro ‘His time is thought to be the latter part of the Muromachi period’, i.e. 1333-1573.  This is just before his only dated work (1575) was made.  Not that I take this date as gospel.  All Japanese signatures should be taken with a pinch of salt and the bigger the name, the bigger the pinch!

 

The other Japanese reference sources that we have are the NBTHK certificates (see original posting for example).  I struggle with Japanese at best and as for hand written script, I’m lost.  All that I can make out from these is ‘mumei; Heianjo’.  As far as I can see there is never a date.  Due to my poor Japanese, I may be wrong here.   Comments welcome.

 

So let’s get onto Western references that I have dug out this morning.  The dates are as appearing in the catalogues and I make no claim as to their accuracy:

 

  1. Peabody Museum: One Yoshiro work (c 1570-1590), Six Yoshiro style c1600 and one Tushimi Yoshiro c1680, plus later examples.
  2. Henry D Rosin Collection.  Koike Yoshiro.  Momoyama period (1573-1615)
  3. Carlo Monzino Collection: Koike Yoshiro plus five others attributed to Momoyama period. One Muromachi (1333-1575) and about 10 attributed to early Edo.
  4. Randolph B Caldwell Collection: One Yoshiro and one Hakayama Saburodaiyu, both Momoyama period.
  5. Lethal Elegance (Boston Museum): Two Heianjo and a Yoshiro (one early to mid 17thC, the others mid to late 17thC)
  6. Walter Compton Collection (part II): Four Heianjo/Yoshiro tsuba with a variety of dates (c1575, c1625, c1650 and c1675).

 

So there we go, a wide spread of dates.  I’m not saying that your dating of brass is incorrect, just ‘not conclusively proven’.  As they say on tv, when announcing a new scientific discovery ‘More research, i.e. funding, is needed’.  But that’s science.  Even Einstein was wrong about his ‘cosmological constant’, which he defended for years, and we ain’t no Einsteins (well I’m not anyway).  As I like to say ‘Having a wrong ideas is no shame, having no ideas is.’

 

Until I heard your talk at the Ashmolean I had no interest in brass inlay tsuba, then I bought three, just because they were part of job lots and I was more interested in the others.  I still don’t really like brass inlay work, but I have to admit that they have provided me with a lot of research over the last year.

 

Best regards, John

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



#19 Ford Hallam

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Posted 15 February 2018 - 02:59 PM

Hi John

 

thanks for your considered response, as you say there is quite a lot to consider.

 

The fundamental problem is that we tend to start with a whole raft of assumed 'truths' as handed to us by our Japanese teachers. By this I mean the establishment with respect to the sword world in Japan.

 

If we are to be more critical in our thinking we ought not to be considering anything that is simply asserted without it having at least some evidence to support it. We might hypothesise, for example, that Portuguese traders may have brought brass to Japan almost immediately they begun trading, but without actual written records it's just guessing. Add to that the detail we do have with regard to the type of trade and quantity then the likelihood of a sudden and significant influx of brass seems ever less probable. Fresh evidence may yet come to light and ideas must then be reevaluated, of course.

 

The truth of much of what we take as the early history of tosogu hasn't come down to us in any reliable form from those early times but were in fact simply 'invented' at the end of the19th and early 20th centuries. 

 

The western references/catalogues are all guilty of simply repeating the same unsubstantiated ideas with regard to dates. None of them can reference a primary source that can actually offer any evidence or rationale for these dates. If we examine those dates they do all seem very specific, authoritative even, yet they don't really know at all, it's all just subjective guesswork masquerading as scholarly study. 

 

To further illustrate my point about 'accepted wisdom' try these out... :)

 

Is there even one bit of actual historical evidence that Onin guards were made in Kyoto during the Onin wars? I can't find any.

What were Kamakura guards called before the 19th century? and where were they made?

Was there even a person called Nobuie? or was it merely a workshop brand name? Is there any evidence at all regarding the identity this mystery tsubashi, either one or two or several individuals.

Who trained Goto Yujo? And what evidence is there that any of the first three Goto masters actually made tosogu? Goto Yujo's primary profession was as a money merchant, his business was in the issuing of gold currency. 

What evidence is there, really, to suggest Myoju the swordsmith and Myoju the tsuba-shi were the same person? Certainly the mei on swords and tsuba are very different, so different in terms of calligraphic skill as to suggest to me that they are by different hands. 

And did Miyamoto Musashi really make the dozens of tsuba and other tosogu attributed to him? :laughing:

 

kind regards

 

Ford


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#20 kissakai

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Posted 15 February 2018 - 03:26 PM

Bugger

What should I do withy my Onin tsuba now (one of my favourites?

To be more constructive

When I was researching the Museum book I copied the main features for the (say) the Bushu (ito) school

After going through almost a dozen books it was so similar so it was like each person had copied an earlier version

Can I say that there has been nothing new for a few hundred years?

I know some of the NMB members are trying new ideas to question the old masters and of course Fords book will throw a grenade into these perceived 'truths'


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#21 JohnTo

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Posted 16 February 2018 - 12:02 PM

Hi Ford,

Thanks for the interesting discussion.  I've learnt a lot. Yep, theres dearth of good info out there.   Looking forward to the book.  Love the soft metal tsuba videos.  Lots of videos on swordmaking, but I can't find any on forging iron sukashi tsuba, my latest quest.  Another opening for you?

 

best regards, John


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#22 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 17 February 2018 - 02:19 AM

 

What should I do withy my Onin tsuba now (one of my favourites?

Oh, you can just pass it along to me, Grev, to add to my stash of Onin/Heianjo/Yoshiro tsuba!  :laughing:


Ken Goldstein

 

Anyone can be tough for a season,

but it takes a special kind of human to rise to life's challenges for a lifetime.


#23 Steve Waszak

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Posted 17 February 2018 - 07:42 PM

Ford,

 

Those questions you ask at the end of your recent posts are all good ones, and thought-provoking.  Each deserves its own thread, though.  ;-)  

 

Just a quick comment about evidence.  You ask whether there is any "actual historical evidence" supporting some of the "accepted wisdom" out there.  Your query raises interesting further questions regarding what counts as evidence.  I think from your post that you are referring to concrete, incontrovertible evidence.  I wonder how often we really do have this kind/degree of evidence supporting what we know/"know" about nihonto and tosogu.  You zero in on a handful of examples, which are all good, but couldn't this list be expanded almost infinitely?

 

Epistemological issues and questions are teeming in our studies in nihonto and tosogu, it seems to me.  This is due to many factors, but at least two stand out.  One, of course, is simple historical distance:  when we are talking about artists, smiths, and objects dating back multiple centuries, the potential for murkiness in knowledge acquisition is high.  Added to this is the obfuscation created via invented genealogies, iemoto-ism, perpetuation of myth and (other) romantic constructs, reliance on tradition, etc..., and what we're left with is or should be a lack of confidence in what we (think we) know about swords, tosogu, and smiths/artists. 

 

Believe me, I'm a huge fan of actual historical, concrete evidence when we have it.  But what to do, then, when we don't? 

 

I think what many of us tend to rely on---if traditional sources of knowledge are looked upon with healthy skepticism---is circumstantial evidence combined with sharp inductive reasoning.  We may be (usually are) forced here to rely on likelihoods and nothing more, since anything more would have to come out of our having "actual historical evidence."  Some likelihoods are greater than others, of course, depending again on the strength of specific circumstantial evidence as well as on one's powers of inductive reasoning.  In the end, we are left to make the best arguments we can for the conclusions we draw (even if with some tentativeness or qualification), as those highly desirable incontrovertible historical facts we seek are so often absent, and will likely remain so. 


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#24 Pete Klein

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Posted 18 February 2018 - 01:52 AM

SW:  "and will remain so"

 

Who knows?  Probably should be, 'and will most likely remain so'.  I'm an optimist.


“It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”
— Mark Twain


#25 Steve Waszak

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Posted 18 February 2018 - 03:19 AM

Edit accomplished.  :thumbsup:


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