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FLINTLOCK TINDER LIGHTER NETSUKE ( SNAPHANCE )


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#1 watsonmil

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 03:36 AM

Dear NMB Members,
I beg your indulgence for a short article on a Japanese artifact that has eluded me in one way or another for the past 25 years. The artifact I would like to describe and comment on is a so called Flintlock Tinder Lighter Netsuke. As you all must realize by now, I have a serious interest in the Tanegashima ( matchlock guns of Japan ) and their accruements. The Tanegashima was a matchlock firearm and thus required a smouldering match ( wick ) to ignite the priming powder. This presented the gunner with the problem of how to get the match lit when needed. The time frame being pre-invention of the Bic Lighter or for that matter a match, ... the only way of starting a fire was with flint and steel ( strike-a-light ). Some ingenious Japanese craftsman took the idea of the mechanical Flintlock and miniaturized it into a walnut sized and shaped Netsuke. This mechanical device was much faster and more reliable than the regular hand striking flint against steel to ignite tinder.

Someone is going to come along now and say, ... but that would have been an ingenious way of lighting the tinder to make a flame to light a pipe of tobacco, and they would be absolutely correct, ... but every serious book I've read on the subject of Tanegashima and their accruements almost always has shown the Netsuke Flintlock Tinder Lighter as part of the gunners equipment as well.

Now lets deal with the physical characteristics of the Netsuke Lighter, .... this particular example is made of iron with a small push button to release the top revealing the flintlock mechanism, the internal spring and sear enclosed under a brass covering and a brass tinder box. To operate the tinder lighter, one would cock the hammer containing the flint, place a small amount of tinder in the tinder pot, ... lower the striking steel over the tinder, and then depress the small brass button on the side to release the sear allowing the hammer to fall causing the flint to strike the striking steel and hopefully causing sparks to land on the tinder as the striking steel is pushed out of the way.

NOTE ... I did not say Frizzen .... I said striking steel. This is rather important as the correct name for the Flintlock Tinder Lighter should be Snaphance Tinder Lighter. Every single so called Flintlock Tinder Lighter Netsuke that I have examined is actually a Snaphance lock and NOT a true Flintlock.

The Snaphance was actually an early version of the flintlock which was invented around 1570 somewhere in Europe. It uses the same parts as a regular flintlock , though instead of a frizzen ( which also covered the flash pan on a true flintlock ), .... it used a part that was merely a shaped piece with a steel face, which the hammer with flint struck, which made sparks that ignited the tinder. The Snaphance's main fault was that it produced too few sparks to act as a reliable form of ignition, ... and for this reason the true flintlock with a frizzen replaced the snaphance universally in Europe in rather short order. You will note the Japanese Tinder Lighter uses the shaped piece of steel rather than a frizzen. By the way the first true flintlock as we know it today was invented in 1610 by a Frenchman to be more precise one Marin le Bourgeoys for King Louis XIII. By 1630 it was well known throughout Europe.

H. B. C. Pollard writes in his Classic ... HISTORY of FIREARMS .. " There is the possibility that the flintlock principal was brought back from Japan by Portuguese navigators, the Japanese having long used flint and steel mechanical lighters . " Noel Perrin refers to this statement by Mr. Pollard in his book ... GIVING UP the GUN. It being well known that Noel Perrin's book is written with gross bias against firearms in general and is full of inaccuracies. I have no problem with his including the above quotation of Mr. Pollard along with his own added : : To light their pipes , yes. But not to fire their guns. ( He is speaking here of adapting the flintlock to act as an ignition system for firearms replacing the matchlock ) Why bother, if you don't want to use guns at all ? " ... end of quote. Here Mr. Perrin is speaking of a time when Japan had more firearms than any European nation, .... what bloody rubbish. In addition ALL Netsuke Tinder Lighters require SCREWS , the technology of cutting thread did not exist in Japan pre 1543, ... and the cutting of fine thread probably not much before the mid 1600's. Therefore the idea that the flintlock was a Japanese invention is in all probability hogwash.

Given that the Portuguese arrived in Japan in 1543 and carried Matchlocks rather than Snaphances or Flintlocks ( not yet invented ) I find it very unlikely that the Portuguese carried back to Portugal the idea of the Snaphance. To the best of my knowledge NO so called Flintlock Tinder Lighter Netsuke even existed in Japan at this time. If someone knows of an example pre-dating 1543 I would be most pleased to see a photograph. It is far more likely that somewhere between 1570 and 1600 ( but predating the invention of our French friends inventing of a true Flintlock as remember all these Tinder Lighters are of the Snaphance configuration ) some Portuguese trading vessel bought over to Japan a Snaphance Firearm which the Japanese ( as is their usual custom ) adopted .... and MINIATURIZED ( which is another of the well known Japanese traits ) the Snaphance into a mechanical lighter.

The reason for not building Tanegashima with either the Snaphance nor the Flintlock ignition system is quite simply ... the age of war was coming to an end, and therefore being basically a country in isolation with no danger of imment invasion ... why bother. The matchlock sufficed as a weapon without the compexities of so many moving parts plus the advantage of not requiring screws ( a technology ) the Japanese were slow to grasp. It is interesting to note that ALL Netsuke Snaphance Tinder Lighters have screws, ... and therefore must date no earlier than the first quarter of the 17th century.

These Netsuke Snaphance Tinder Lighters are generally housed in iron, and alternatively sometimes housed in a brass shell. Because so many of the iron variety have virtually identical flower decorations on the top of the shell it is safe to assume that these examples all came from the same workshop. The brass examples tend to be very plain and utilitarian with little or no design on the top. The only decorative feature which sometimes appears is an overall pierced shell, or the same design of flowers as their iron counterparts. The brass examples are considered to be of a later manufacture than the iron examples. I have seen a couple of very elaborately decorated iron examples inlaid with gold and silver and these almost certainly belonged to the Daimyo class.

One thing that is certain surviving examples of the Snaphance Tinder Lighter Netsuke are scarce. In over 30 years of collecting I have only seen in hand or pictured perhaps 30 examples if that many, and consequently they are relatively expensive. Photograhs to follow.
I hope this short treatise on these unusual artifacts has been of interest, and that you have slightly broadened your knowledge of the Samurai Age. .... any errors are mine alone.

... Ron Watson

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#2 estcrh

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 03:55 AM

Once again, something I have never seen, I had read about some flintlocks being brought to Japan at one time but they did not catch on. It seems that the Japanese did like one aspect of this type of ignition, great information!

#3 Bugyotsuji

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 08:41 AM

That was a good read, Ron. Many thanks for the education. Lots of food for thought in that article, and a lovely working example of an iron flin... :shock: er, snapha(u)nce lighter. 8)

I have owned two of these over the last 15 years, but both times someone has persuaded me to part with it. The last one went to our Sensei and is now on display in the castle museum at the exhibition.

I know the auction master around here has one but he refuses point-blank to part with it. :steamed:

There was a stainless steel one going for 1,500 USD at an antiques stand not too long ago, but it looked as though someone had made it recently. You might expect to find fakes, but the general lack of such modern reproductions leads me to suspect that they would be too labor/labour-intensive to even make such a venture worthwhile.

Anyhow I am very glad you found one and doubly glad you have posted your report here! :thanks:
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#4 Brian

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 10:00 AM

Ron,
Awesome write-up, thanks! I'll be sure to keep a lookout for them.
Before they get a chance to ask...a reminder that this would be an excellent article for one of the Japanese sword society newsletters. ;)

Brian

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#5 IanB

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 12:08 PM

Ron, Further to your excellent article, you might be interested to know that Captain John Saris, who travelled to Japan to negotiate a trading treaty for the English, records in his diary that in 1613 he gave Matsura Hoin, daimyo of Hirado, a gold damascened gun that was described as 'double locked'. This was a mistake on his part since he thought he was meeting the 'King of Japan'. He later travelled to Sumpu and Edo with Will adams and gave Tokugawa Ieyasu a gold damascened gun as well. At this period these would have been snaphaunces, but sadly he gives no other details. I made a few enquiries at Toshogu shrines but there seems to be no trace of what happened to these guns. I did however once encounter a three barrelled Japanese snaphaunce that was first recorded in the Army Museum in Mexico City and ended up in California where I saw it. The three barrels rotated so each used the same cock and flint but had individual pans and steels. The barrels had been decorated at a later date with deities, but at the base of each was a faint Tokugawa kamon. The snaphaunce mechanism was weird - each pan had an L shaped cover with the vertical face of steel grooved like those of a Spanish miquelet lock. Each steel was held by a spiral brass spring whose outer end was fastened to the rear of the steel and the centre behind the pan. At the bottom of the steel face was a short peg that engaged in a hole in a small fence at the front edge of the pan. In use, the steel was pulled down and the peg engaged in the hole, holding it in place and covering the pan. As the flint struck, the steel was pushed back, releasing the peg, the spring then lifting the steel off the pan and scraped it upwards against the flint which was moving downwards. Sadly I had no camera and didn't think to take proper sketches but I'm sure there was a second spiral spring in front of the first that helped lift the steel. Two of the steels were actually of bronze and had been cast from an original steel one - a repair that suggests it had not been robust enough to be practical and had been relegated to a display piece. That it was originally in Mexico City might be important. In 1614 The Keicho mission to Europe by Hasekura Tsunenaga went there first on their way to Europe in 1614. A letter from Date Masamune makes it clear that the gifts of arms and armour for European monarchs was supplied by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Almost certainly the Japanese had seen snaphaunce guns carried by the Dutch years before Saris arrived and this gun may well have been a Japanese attempt to copy the mechanism that had failed and had been sent as a gift with Hasekura.
Ian Bottomley

#6 watsonmil

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 11:02 PM

Dear Piers, Brian, Ian, Eric, et al,
Thank you all for the interest and encouragement, .... it is your appreciation that makes it worthwhile. Piers, ... brought up the subject of fakes, ... and certainly the stainless steel example he mentions would have to be fake. I would'nt have thought that someone intending to fake an example would have chosen stainless steel to work with. In fact given the complexity of the internal mechanism I would be surprised if anyone would try to fake one of these at all. I was going to take off the brass cover and photograph the mechanism on the Tinder Lighter for the membership, ... but given the miniaturization of the working parts and the compexity of just the sear system ( YES, .. I've had the bloody thing apart as it would not stay cocked ), and I cannot stand something that doesn't work, ... I decided that I would never get decent photographs given the camera I was using. I would caution the membership that messing with something this miniature and complex actually requires the services of a watch maker, and that if you own one and it does not function correctly, .... just leave well enough alone. I very nearly pulled my hair out trying to figure out what the problem was, and once finding it, ... repairing it, ... not to mention putting the bloody thing back together again. My eyes are still pulling after the eye strain and I am NOT kidding. It very nearly beat me, and I have repaired/restored firearms most of my life. It is a great credit to the Japanese craftsmen who produced such objects using only basic handtools. The quality of work these Japanese craftsmen were capable of is truly amazing. I :bowdown: to their capabilities.
...Ron Watson

#7 kiddandy

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 02:13 PM

Hi

I am new to this forum but wondered if you could give me a bit of advice regarding the Netsuke Tinder Lighter
I inherited one of these tinder lighters from an uncle and after many years looking for an explanation of its practical use I stumbled across this forum with your post explaining the purpose of the tinder lighter.
I have never seen one for sale and wondered if you could tell me an approxiamte value, my lighter looks exactly like the one you posted photos of, other than the ring on the base is missing and has been replaced with a simple brass screw, the fabric pouch is also missing. The mechanism works although the spring is obviously very worn and does not strike with any great force. I can post photos if that would help.

Thanks
Andy Kidd

#8 watsonmil

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 04:23 PM

Dear Sir,
Please sign your posts with at least a first name as per the NMB rules, .... I have sent you a PM ( private message ).
... Ron Watson

#9 estcrh

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Posted 25 May 2012 - 09:32 PM

Hi

I am new to this forum but wondered if you could give me a bit of advice regarding the Netsuke Tinder Lighter
I inherited one of these tinder lighters from an uncle and after many years looking for an explanation of its practical use I stumbled across this forum with your post explaining the purpose of the tinder lighter.
I have never seen one for sale and wondered if you could tell me an approxiamte value, my lighter looks exactly like the one you posted photos of, other than the ring on the base is missing and has been replaced with a simple brass screw, the fabric pouch is also missing. The mechanism works although the spring is obviously very worn and does not strike with any great force. I can post photos if that would help.

Thanks

Photos would be appreciated by forum members for their historical value as photos are hard to find.

#10 estcrh

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 01:48 PM

This is for Ron, in case he has not seen it before, I ran into this item a long time ago but did not know what it was. I just ran into it again and remembered this article.

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#11 watsonmil

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 02:58 PM

Dear Eric,
Did you also notice the asking price of ... $ 7500.00 :roll: !
... Ron

#12 estcrh

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Posted 04 November 2012 - 09:14 AM

Thought I would post this one here for future reference.

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#13 kiddandy

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 11:39 PM

Hi
Here a few photos of my Tinder Box I hope they are of some interest to Forum members.
Does any one have an idea of the value for this type of Tinder box, I haven't seen any for sale

Thanks

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#14 Drago

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 11:48 PM

Very beautiful. I would like to have one, and the 400 Pound given in that one picture look pretty good.

It's interesting, I've never seen a similar concept like this in the western world, except perhaps for a tinder lighter that looks like a gun.
Tobias H.

#15 watsonmil

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 01:00 AM

Dear Andy,
That is a very nice example. Someone has replaced the pin and brass loop on the bottom with a brass screw I see, ... other than that it looks to have come from the same workshop as the one I own. I would for replacement value ( insurance ) place a value of $ 1000.00 US on it. I notice yours also has a slightly smaller " sear release button " than the one I own. You had previously mentioned that the release ( hammer spring ) seems quite weak, ... since you nor anyone else will ever use it for it's intended purpose, ... leave well enough alone. A nice example in nice overall condition, .... be happy ! Any further questions please use my personal e-mail address : watsonr@mts.net
... Ron Watson

#16 Bugyotsuji

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 06:26 AM

Some lovely examples. I have seen these at 150,000 yen in Japan before the bubble burst, but Ron's suggestion of 1,000 US for insurance purposes seems about right to me too. The two I owned both had strong springs, but one had a split in the head of the iron flint-holder screw, and the other had a worn lip in the iron cover square catch hole. So you see each one is likely to have some small problem, hand-made as they were back in Edo times. :clap:
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#17 Brian

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:15 PM

There was one of these on the dealers table next to Mike/Cyrus at the Vegas Antiques Arms fair the past week. Didn't strike me as looking Japanese though, but not sure. Rough condition with a stippled surface. Weaker spring.
As per most items at the fair...expensive. I think he had it at $1750. :shock:

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#18 Bugyotsuji

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 03:02 PM

There was one of these on the dealers table next to Mike/Cyrus at the Vegas Antiques Arms fair the past week. Didn't strike me as looking Japanese though, but not sure. Rough condition with a stippled surface. Weaker spring.
As per most items at the fair...expensive. I think he had it at $1750. :shock:

Brian

Yes, that is a little optimistic, but perhaps he had some built-in bargaining leeway? :|
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#19 Anthony de Vos

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Posted 26 May 2018 - 05:21 PM

Hi!

 

I also have a love for these little beauties.

Here is my collection.

 

IMG_3499a.jpg

 

If you want to study each one in detail, you can find them here; 

 

http://www.nihonto-y...tinder-lighters

 

Regards,

 

Anthony


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#20 Brian

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Posted 26 May 2018 - 05:54 PM

:wow:

 

:wub:

 

Awww..c'mon Anthony. Just one! That's all I want :)
That is crazy. No wonder we can't find any.
Man, those are lovely. Congrats


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#21 Anthony de Vos

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Posted 25 June 2018 - 08:08 PM

Hi!

 

I cought another little bird.

Sukashi in brass and kinpaku.

 

Anthony

 

 

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#22 Bugyotsuji

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Posted 26 June 2018 - 01:29 AM

Congratulations, Anthony, another little jewel! :)


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#23 kusunokimasahige

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Posted 07 July 2018 - 05:25 PM

Oh man these are so cool !

I am going to ask a friend of mine who is a gunsmith if he could make me one :)


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