Unusual Chinese duanjian with fine gilt mounts and a blade of non-Chinese origin.
Base 6 mm
Middle 4 mm
Start backedge 5 mm
5 cm from tip 3 mm
Base 31 mm
Middle 30.5 mm
Widest 34 mm
18 cm from hilt
Iron, steel, bronze, gold, wood, silk
Qing dynasty, China
European antique market
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Officers of the Qing dynasty Eight Banners got fixed stipends to purchase and maintain their equipment, and at the higher echelons, this could be a considerable sum. As a result, they could apply their personal preferences and you see a lot of variety among such weapons.
This fine Chinese saber has a yànlíngdāo (雁翎刀) blade that is mostly straight, with a tip that sweeps up. The gentle widening in this section suggests it originated from the north. In overall form, it is quintessentially Chinese, but in its execution, it took inspiration from many cultures: the U-turn groove and segmented grooves come from Persian and North Indian blade designs. The pointed end of the final groove before a long back bevel refers back to the Japanese naginata. The final section of the blade with a slightly peaked backedge seems to refer to early Islamic sabers styles that strongly influenced the sabers used by the steppe people like the Mongols.
A rarely seen feature of this blade are the golden damascened grooves, done by applying a gold sheet over crosshatching. Very few known Chinese sabers have this treatment, I have encountered less than a handful, this example included, all dating from the 17th-18th centuries.
At the blade's base is a tūnkǒu (吞口) "swallowing mouth", a stylistic feature that goes back to early Seljuk sabers but which became a staple of Chinese saber design. This tūnkǒu is of typical form, with long, serrated lower "jaw". It used to be entirely covered with gold sheet, now mostly gone due to rubbing with the scabbard.
The hilt consists of a wooden grip wrapped with indigo silk, aged to a greenish-blue. The mounts consist of a gilt bronze guard, ferrule, and pommel. The set is decorated with kuíwén (夔紋) designs that were inspired by archaic bronzes of the Warring States period, which were a prized collectible among the Qing's elite. The hilt is now tarnished, seeping through the gilding.
The blade shape is typical for the 17th to 18th centuries, this is probably an 18th-century iteration of the form. Hilt mounts are late 18th to early 19th century.
The blade has seen action and has some edge damage from contact. Blade was polished, but some pitting and chips had to remain. Some losses to the gold, mainly on the tūnkǒu. Hilt tight, silk wrap all there but in fragile condition, a cord snapped and was glued back in place. The repair is nearly invisible. See photos.
Quality Chinese officer's sabers are incredibly rare on the market. This one belongs to an even smaller group of such weapons with gold generously applied in its grooves. Its design takes inspiration from many cultures, telling us something about a highly informed and refined Qing metropolitan sword culture.
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A robust and heavy example, crafted with care.
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A very rare Chinese saber guard dating from the height of the Qing dynasty.
The only set of its type known to me in both private and museum collections.