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Gold Damascened Sukashi Tsuba Conundrum


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#1 toukerb

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 06:47 PM

Hello,

 

I recently purchased an iron sukashi tsuba  (photo2) with remnants of applied gold foil (not amalgam gilding). (The gold is not inlayed, but appears to have been applied with some other technique; the usual damascenening file marks are absent). I've been able to find a photograph (photo3) of a similarly 'gilded' tsuba in the same style with even fewer remnants of applied gold foil.

 

I have found references in Henri Joly's work that indicate that many iron tosogu elements were stripped, at some point, to recover the gold from their decoration. Does anyone from the forum know if these tsubas may have been victims of such abuse, or is their condition simply the result of wear and tear?

 

I would also be most interested to know, if any of you could suggest what may have been their original appearance. Photo 1 is of later shakudo example where the leaves were inexplicably (at least to me) only partially gilt in their original state. Is there any particular stylistic tradition which might explain this?

 

Many thanks in advance for thoughts you may have in this regard,

 

Marc

 

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#2 John A Stuart

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 07:05 PM

These are standard highlights found with Choshu tsuba. Here is mine of similar style Kawaji Han Masasada. The one you have 3rd. John

BTW, I think they are mercury gilding.

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#3 toukerb

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 07:52 PM

Hi John,

 

Many thanks for your reply.

 

The 'buds' were certainly damascened as very fine cross hatching can be discerned through the wear of the gilding. The thickness of the 'gilding' on the leaves (>10 microns, no cross hatching), however, makes me think that this is not amalgam. It also seems that the pattern of the gilding on the leaves is more reminiscent of wear than of deliberate decorative intent. The reason I included the shabuko example is that it seems that partial gilding of entire sections of leaves apparently belonged to the tosogu esthetic. Here is another photo which depicts a fuchi/kashira set with very similar partial gilding of leaves, illustrated in the shakudo example of my first post. The question which is of greatest interest to me is the origin of this unexpected, yet elegant treatment of leaves.

 

All the best,

 

Marc

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#4 TETSUGENDO

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 10:14 PM

Marc,

 

John answered your question.  All three look as originally intended ( excepting some slight wear), no heavy wear or intentional 

"stripping" of precious metal has occured. An open questioning mind is a good thing....self manufactured conundrums or apple/orange comparisons are not. Relax.

 

-StevenK



#5 toukerb

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 09:59 AM

Many thanks John and Steven, once more, for your insights on this thread.

 

I thought it might be useful to include a close up of the damascened buds, in which wear reveals the cross-hatching which I have since learned is associated with Numone-Zogan. I also came across a quote from H.C Guansaulus from his 1924  work: The Japanese sword and its decoration p119 which seems to confirm that Numone-Zogan was used, at least in part, on this tsuba:

 

"Nunome-zogan is produced by hammering the inlay upon a surface which has been cross-hatched and scratched to a texture-like appearance, in the little threads of which the inlay gains a hold. This process may often be discovered upon pieces that are worn. "

 

All the best,

 

Marc

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#6 Ford Hallam

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 04:55 PM

I'll just offer a few observations...

 

Mercury amalgam gilding cannot be applied to iron or steel. This is because the mercury simply won't stick to the iron. This problem can be resolved by first copper plating the iron and then applying the mercury solution to that. As far as my experience goes I've never seen evidence that old tsuba-ko ever did that though.

 

The mercury amalgam, when applied to non-ferrous metals or alloys isn't simply rubbed on the bare metal either. A special solution of mercury dissolved in acid and diluted with water is rubbed on the prepared the ground, a bit like applying a flux, this leaves a thin mercury layer that then readily absorbs the amalgam.  

 

A less well known or recognised way of gilding non-ferrous metals and alloys involves fusing, at relatively low temperatures (about 400 degrees C) , thin gold sheet. This is not to be confused with the contemporary Korean technique of Keum Boo. The technique, on tosogu can be recognised where the edge of the gilding really does have a defined edge that you can feel with you fingernail. To my knowledge this process, which appears to be quite common , hasn't properly been defined in tosogu literature nor is it practiced today. It is also distinct from uttori as far as I can detail.

 

With nunome-zogan, as has been described, it can most readily be identified where traces of the chisel work crosshatching shows through the worn gold foil but it's important to realise that simply because you cant see the crosshatching doesn't mean it's not nunome-zogan. The finer work is cut such that by the time the iron is patinated the marks are invisible to the naked eye.


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#7 John A Stuart

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 06:53 PM

How is fire gilding done on sword blades or western armour Ford? John



#8 toukerb

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 08:03 PM

Hello again John,

 

The traditional western methods are usually based on either a technique akin to Numone-Zogan (achieving a rough surface on the iron mechanically), or by using a mordant to prepare the surface which is to receive the gilding. In either case the gold foil is then burnished, or hammered into place, to create a mechanical bond.

 

marc



#9 Ford Hallam

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 09:45 PM

John, where fire gilding has been used on iron in the western tradition they copper coated prior to the fire gilding. Methods to flash plating with copper were in use long before electroplating was developed.


 

 


#10 John A Stuart

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 03:33 AM

Thank you. John



#11 toukerb

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 09:33 AM

Hello John,

 

While amalgam gilding on iron/steel did indeed exist in Europe prior to the 19thC, its use was primarily applied, to decorative objects which would not be subject to wear. Prior to the 1800s the gilding of swords and armour in Europe was almost exclusively performed with foil using Numone-Zogan like technique, or a heat/burnishing method. The damascening (Numone-Zogan) technique produced the most lustrous and long wearing of all three. Amalgam gilding, in the realm of weapons was essentially limited to the gilded highlights of the blued first third of post-1740 blades, which received adequate protection from their scabbards, and thus did not require the more elaborate and time consuming techniques.

 

The Technical Encyclopedia referenced below describes the three methods. You may be interested to learn that the amalgam gilding of iron/steel did not necessarily require prior copper plating. I've included a 'google translation' of the relevant section for those among us who might find it laborious to wade though 18thC French texts.

 

Hope this is of interest,

marc

 

Encyclopédie méthodique. Arts et métiers mécaniques. Tome 2 / , [par Jacques Lacombe] - 1782-1791  p 352-354

 

"Gilding on fire or on metals.

There are three usual ways of gilding with fire, to know in ground gold; in gold simply in foil, and in chopped gold; but we can add a fourth, which we will discuss at the end of this article. Gold gilding or gold vermeil, is made with gold amalgamated with mercury, to a certain extent, which is usually an ounce of quicksilver on a big gold.

For this operation the crucible is first blushed; then the gold and the quicksilver having been put in it, they are gently stirred with a hook, till we see that the gold is melted, & incorporated into quicksilver; after which they are thus thrown together in water to wash them. To prepare the metal to receive the gold it is necessary to clean the metal that one wants to brown; what is done with strong water weakened with water; this is called pickling or stripping. The metal being well dried, it is covered with this mixture of gold and bright silver, extending it as much as possible; in this state the metal is set on fire on the grate, or in the basket to be gilded, above which is a stove full of fire. The grate to be gilded is a small lattice of trellis thread, of which the pan is covered, and on which the work is laid; those that are silvered do not need so much cleanliness. The basket to be gilded is also a lattice of wire, which differs from the grid only in that it is concave & pressed a few inches. As quicksilver evaporates, if. that we can distinguish the places where it lacks gold, we repair the work by adding new amalgam where it is needed. To make this gilding more durable, the gilders rub the work with mercury & etching, and gild a fertilized time in the same way. They sometimes repeated this operation up to three or four times for the gold covering the metal to be of a suitable thickness. When the work is in this state it is finished with the brush-scratch which is a brush made of small brass threads. Lastly, it is colored by a process of which the gilders make a secret, but which is probably the same as that used to give color to the species of gold, which is described by the word Monnoyeur in the article on Le Blanchiment.

To prepare the metals to receive the gold leaf gilding, one begins by scratching them with the grating, which is a sharp iron with four sharp edges similar to the iron of a sting. It is two to three inches long, and has a handle twelve to fifteen inches long. When the metal has been well scraped it is po! It with the sharp iron polisher, which does not differ from the burnisher of which we spoke above. Then the metal is heated. This operation is called blue, because when it is done on iron, it takes a blue color.
When the metal is hot enough, apply the first layer of gold leaf that is slightly cleaned with a burnisher or polisher. The action of swallowing is to press against the forceps with this instrument, the leaves that have been applied. Normally only three or four layers are given, of a thin sheet of gold in the common works, and of two leaves in the fine works, and at each layer they are cut down and then put back into the fire, which is called annealing. After the last coat, the gold is able to be light brown with the burnisher of sanguine also called stone to brown.

Gilding, which is called chopped gold, is done with gold leaves like the preceding, and it is practiced in the same manner, but it differs in two essential points.
1. When the metal has been scraped & polished, a prodigious number of small hatches are made, in all directions, with the chopping knife, which is a small knife with a short and wide steel blade, fitted with wood or wood. horn. These make the hatching made on the metals before the gold is applied to it, which have been called the chopped gold gilding, although the hatching no longer appears on the outside, when the gilding is finished.
2. For minced gilding it takes up to ten or twelve layers, two sheets of gold for each layer, instead of three or four for plain gilding. This large quantity of gold is necessary to cover the hatching, but the gilding, which is then much more beautiful and more solid."

 

 



#12 John A Stuart

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 12:24 PM

Thank you too. John



#13 Ford Hallam

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 12:44 PM

You may be interested to learn that the amalgam gilding of iron/steel did not necessarily require prior copper plating

 

 

I'd be very interested to learn how mercury amalgam is made to adhere to iron as this would seem to contradict some basic metallurgical principles.... 

 

And while it was common practice in Europe to fuse gold foil to highly polished steel (at blueing temperature) or iron the gold used was very thin (thin enough to allow oxygen to diffuse through it in fact), much thinner than we see on tsuba, there is no evidence that this practice was applied in Japan.


 

 


#14 toukerb

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 09:29 PM

Although this thread diverged onto an essentially technical digression about amalgam, I must thank Ford Hallam for indirectly suggesting an answer to my primary question:  What may have been the extent of the original gilding on this tsuba?

 

Indeed, in one of his contributions to the thread, he concluded by stating "The finer work is cut such that by the time the iron is patinated the marks are invisible to the naked eye". If I have chastised myself for not thinking of this myself, his comment prompted me to inspect the tsuba under higher magnification. Therein lay the key to my original query. I have yet to map out the extent of what remains of the preparatory work for the Numone-Zogan, but it seems clear that what remains of the gilding is a very partial rendition of the craftsman's intent. From the cursory inspection I made of it, I suspect that the original Numone-Zogan highlights likely resembled those of the later shakudo examples I've illustrated in this thread.

 

It certainly make me wonder how many iron tosogu fittings, originally adorned with Numone-Zogan, now present an appearance far removed from that which they originally had..

 

marc


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#15 TETSUGENDO

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 10:14 PM

Marc,

 

If all you are intent on doing is twisting others statements to fit your preconceived misconceptions you will learn little. Your tsuba did not look like the shakudo example pictured.....ALTHOUGH THEY ARE RELATED, THEY DIFFER ON MANY LEVELS.

 

-StevenK


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#16 Ford Hallam

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 01:10 PM

One way to gain a little context with respect to what we might think an artist or craftsman of the past intended with their work is to study the paintings and drawing of the time and to read about the sorts of aesthetic considerations that were important to those people.

 

The art of tosogu cannot be understood or appreciated in a vacuum. It's been suggested that the past is a foreign land...how much more so then when it's old Japan?  The greatest error any of us can commit in the study of this subject is to approach it with our modern sensibilities and a mish-mash of Western misconception of what oriental art and philosophy might be. 

 

As for interpreting tool marks and the like as a way to try and understand technique I'm afraid that that aspect really is far too complex to be  attempted from the comfort of an armchair. The problem here is that writers on tosogu have for far too many years been labouring under the illusion they they actually have a clue as to how these objects were made....consequently a bizarre 'theory' of Japanese metalwork technology has become something of a dogma is this field of study, but it simply doesn't stand up to any real studio, metallurgical or scientific examination.


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#17 Ford Hallam

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 01:42 PM

Marc

 

I hope you'll forgive me using your various comment and observations to illustrate more specifically the pitfalls I've described in my previous post.

 

 ....in one of his contributions to the thread, he concluded by stating "The finer work is cut such that by the time the iron is patinated the marks are invisible to the naked eye". If I have chastised myself for not thinking of this myself, his comment prompted me to inspect the tsuba under higher magnification. Therein lay the key to my original query. I have yet to map out the extent of what remains of the preparatory work for the Numone-Zogan, but it seems clear that what remains of the gilding is a very partial rendition of the craftsman's intent. From the cursory inspection I made of it, I suspect that the original Numone-Zogan highlights likely resembled those of the later shakudo examples I've illustrated in this thread.

 

 

 

 

Your point about the extent of the preparatory ground crosshatching is incorrect, I'm afraid.  Your apparent misunderstanding stems, I imagine, from your belief that wherever there is/was crosshatching then it would follow that originally there was gold attached there. You assert; "...it seems clear that what remains of the gilding is a very partial rendition of the craftsman's intent."

 

This reveals your fundamental misunderstanding the process. In fact it would be common practice to cut an area somewhat bigger than the desired eventual gold application. Even the gold foil, when initially lightly applied (before the final fully securing) is a little bigger than the final outline. The rough shape is tacked in place and then carefully cut out with a scalpel-like tool (mawashi-kiri) and the excess peeled away, leaving only the precise shape as required. The foil is then properly secured and burnished smooth, obliterating the crosshatching seen in the un-worn gold, and the surrounding iron ground.

 

In time, as the gold is worn away through handling, the underlying crosshatching becomes visible and the gilding takes on the appearance we easily recognise today. We appreciate, today, the suggestion of "wabi-sabi" this worn effect implies but the likelihood is that this isn't what  it looked like when new. 

 

Sometimes, if you examine this sort of work under a microscope you can still see traces of the scalpel cuts.  All this to say that the irregular gold edgings in the Bushu iron tsuba's leaves is deliberate and mostly exactly as the maker intended. Period illustrations of similar designs reveal exactly the same sorts of details, ie; those irregular edgings to the leaves, just as happens in nature, and in Japanese art illustrated to suggest the transience of the beautiful flower even as it blooms.

 

As for the Shakudo tsuba and it's somewhat angular hard edged graphic gilding style , that too is simply yet another an artistic convention. One we see in many woodblock prints and period painting of certain schools. 


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#18 John A Stuart

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 04:24 PM

I finally dug out the tsuba pictured above and viewed it under light through a loupe. By golly, very very fine hatching contiguous with the gold applique. It must have been very thin gold leaf pressed as it, (from wear?, intentionally?), has no thickness to it. Another thing I saw was that the hatching was only in the areas where gold appears, no worn, completely bald hatching observed anywhere else. John


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#19 TETSUGENDO

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 06:18 PM

1516118908971.jpg 1516118837435.jpg Here are a couple of photos to illustrate Ford's point.  The tsuba presented retains its original lustrous jet black patina and gilding in very close to original condition.

 

-StevenK



#20 peterd

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 07:53 PM

Hi, i showed this kyo kenjo tsuba a few months ago.

The whole face, front and back apart from the seppa have cross hatching. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry for the photo.

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#21 toukerb

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Posted 17 January 2018 - 05:52 PM

Hello Steven,

 

Is there a particular Japanese designation for the stippling pattern, particularly visible on the seppa dai, which adorns your lovely tsuba?

 

marc






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