An Ancient and Beautiful Signed Wakazashi Around 700 Years Old
It has a signed Nambokocho period blade, but try as we might, as it is in an ancient shortened nakago kanji, at present we simply can't translate it. This fabulous sword is in it's original, Edo period, stunning, shakudo and pure gold decorated fushikashira, and the original edo black lacquer saya has, within its pocket, a shakudo and pure gold decorated kozuke [utility knife] decorated with birds perched on a straw hat and a pair of tools, all on a nanako ground. The menuki are also shakudo of chisseled clouds bearing a pair of pure gold decor dragon of stunning quality. All the koshirae fittings and mounts are original Edo period. Its habaki a pure gold foiled covered habaki, matched with a pair of gold foil covered seppa. A pure gold foiled habaki is created, first by hand making a bespoke copper habaki [to fit over the blade's nakago, above the tsuba] and a small billet of solid gold is then hand hammered, in order to become a thickened, flat, small sheet of gold [about 100 times thicker than aluminium cooking foil] then it is formed around the habaki and sealed with heat so there no visible seam. The habaki's pure gold surface was then engraved with an oblique, rain fall pattern, upon its slightly curved surface on both sides. The seppa [washer type supports either side of tsuba hand guard] are similarly pure gold foil overlaid, made in the very same way as the habaki, with a small sheet of hammered gold overlaid over the copper oval seppa base. Interestingly, it would likely be less expensive to make the habaki in solid gold, but pure gold is very soft indeed, and it needs the copper base to maintain its strength. A most interesting point regarding old samurai swords, is when blades have been mounted and fitted with a pure gold hammered foil habaki, it represented that a sword that was very highly prized indeed, either due to its superior maker, or, more likely its highly significant history within the family of its ownership. For example, regarding the cost of bespoke making a pure gold foiled habaki, in order to replace it, if a skilled enough artisan could actually be found in order to recreate one, it would cost somewhere in the region of two thousand pounds plus. Of course that is not to say its habaki is actually worth two thousand pounds, but it would likely cost that, or more, to replace it. Each of its two seppa would also be around four hundred pounds each. The swords hilt mounts are decorated in traditional Japanese shakudo. Japanese traditional shakudo, is a billon of gold and copper (typically 4-10% gold, 96-90% copper) which can be treated to form an indigo/black patina resembling lacquer. Unpatinated shakudo visually resembles bronze; the dark colour is induced by applying and heating rokusho, a special patination formula. The tsuka is wrapped in its original Edo period two colour silk tsukaito [binding], it is worn, naturally, but completely original
When the Nanboku-cho era conflict broke out, vassalage ties became more serious. During the relatively peaceful Kamakura period, military skills were not placed at a premium, but after the outbreak of civil war this criterion became the most important one. A new intermediary consideration emerged in the vassalage ties of the post 1336 environment: the need for loyalty and a tighter tie between lord and vassal. The tighter ties between the shogun and his vassals emerged as a result of the need for military action against rivals. Vassalage ties were either established by the Ashikaga or there was a risk of losing a potential warrior to another warrior hierarchy controlled, at best, by emerging shugo lords loyal to the Ashikaga, and at worst by rival imperialist generals. So, in a true sense, vassalage ties during the civil war period were used to bridge potential conflict through the recruitment of warriors.
At the same time that vassalage ties tightened between samurai and shogun, the legitimacy of these ties were sorely tested. This apparent paradox is logically explained by the existence of many claims to samurai loyalty that were presented: towards rival imperialist generals, shugo lords, and even towards local samurai alliances.
A few examples will illustrate the emergence of vassalage ties between the shogun Ashikaga Takauji and his new housemen. The Kobayakawa family became loyal vassals when they were entrusted with defending Ashikaga interests in the province of Aki Province after Takauji had retreated to Kyushu in 1336. Another Aki samurai family, the Mori clan, became vassals of Takauji in 1336, and served under Ko Moroyasu until the outbreak of the Kanno Incident. In the 1350s, the Mori sided with the enemies of Takauji, Tadayoshi and his adopted son Tadafuyu, and not until the 1360s were they back again as vassals of the shogun. Vassalage ties to the Kawashima clan and other warrior families near Kyoto were established by Takauji in the summer of 1336 in the latter's drive to retake the capital. The Kawashima case is of considerable interest because of a document pertaining to the terms of vassalage bearing Takauji's signature: they would exchange military service for stewardship rights (jito shiki) over half of Kawashima Estate, leaving the other half in possession of the noble proprietor in the form of rent
The original Edo lacquer on the saya is a little tired in areas but could be expertly restored by us to perfect condition if required. The blade is in very bright and beautiful polish, and, likely due to its great age, the edge hamon probably finishes just a few millimetres before the kissaki.
To us, this reflection of its age and use by up to 40 different samurai in its working life of many hundreds of years, is part of it history, however, such a kissaki imperfection [that has no visual hamon] is, historically, certainly not recommended that the sword is used, once more in modern times, for hand to hand combat, with, or against, a trained samurai, literally, to the death. For if one did such a thing today, there is a possibility that the very tip may, or indeed, may not, fail if it made point-to-edge contact with another blow, from another samurai sword. But, it makes no difference whatsoever to its beauty, quality, history, rarity and, in our opinion, value in its place within the pantheon of samurai history. However, to be absolutely clear, our swords are never, ever, to be used in hand to hand combat [to the death, or otherwise]. They are sold alone for enjoyment of the fabulous beauty and the incredible skills of a tradition long past, and their amazing history, over many hundreds of years, each one has likely enjoyed.
In many respects it is, in our opinion, our greatest privilege to own, even briefly, such incredible pieces of samurai art as this one, to hold in one’s hands an item that has been used by so many noble warriors, for so many hundreds of years, and to look as good as the day it was made, up to 700 years ago is actually remarkable. For example, we have many dozens of steel swords, late medieval, for example, up to between 500 and 700 years old, and certainly some up to 2000 years old, but not from Japan, from Europe, and every one will have signs of great ageing and wear, being very russeted, and certainly no mounts to speak of, and this is totally the norm. In every great collection around the world, all such steel swords from early European history, that have survived as long as these Japanese swords, look just as worn, aged, and tired, compared to just how they once beautifully looked when first made. Not at all so with ancient Japanese swords, that can and do look as good as new, so by comparison, effectively, there is no comparison.
One more example, if we ever found a European sword blade, made around the 1300’s, that looked literally as the day it was made, like this samurai sword, it would be so rare and exceptional it would likely be worth somewhere between one hundred thousand to half a million pounds.
This sword is 21 inches tsuba to tip, overall in its saya it is 28.25 inches