Iron mounted yanmaodao | Mandarin Mansion

Iron mounted yanmaodao

A large fangshi mounted saber of yanmaodao form which appears to date from the early 19th century. It is of simple, sturdy manufacture with heavy duty hilt fittings and a long, unfullered blade that only sweeps up at the last quarter or so of the blade's length. Hilt is tight, some very minor play in the guard. On the handle are remains of a red seal, probably a Chinese "export approval mark" which were put on many antiques that left the country after 1949.

Overall length: 92.5 cm / 36.4 inch
Blade length: 74.5 cm / 29.3 inch
Thickness: forte 6 mm, middle 5 mm, near tip 2.5 mm
Blade width: forte 34 mm
Weight without scabbard: 812 grams

Sabers with angular style fittings, or fangshi, are typically encountered from the 17th and 18th centuries. At the end of the 18th century the style gradually got replaced by the rund style or yuanshi. Such sabers were originally only carried by princes and elite forces, appearing first on artwork in 1748. These elite troops were considered the rock stars of their day among military personnel, and any who had seen these was eager to copy the style. In the next few decades, yuanshi replaced the early fangshi almost entirely, despite the fact that official regulations stipulated fangshi for anyone but the elite corps and some princely titles until as late as 1899. However, fashions changed fastest in the metropolitan area, and much slower in the provinces. Judging from the style and workmanship, this particular saber is probably made for one of the provincial Eight Banners or Green Standard Army garrisons spread throughout the empire where they weren't as fast to pick up on te latest trends in style.

Four sabers showing the evolution in style. Top to bottom:
1. Circa 1650 - 1700, "fangshi": angular fittings.
2. Circa 1700 - 1800, "fangshi": angular fittings.
3. Circa 1800 - 1870, "yuanshi" round fittings.
4. Circa 1870 - 1910, "yuanshi" round fittings.

It is in unrestored, as-found condition, I only lightly cleaned some active rust off the blade. The scabbard misses the chape and has some cracks and losses. A full polish should reveal some kind of forging pattern as these were all of forge folded steel with an inserted high-carbon steel edge.

A good old military saber, probably of the early 19th century, in good unrestored condition. It preserves an older, somewhat anachronistic form.