Most antique Vietnamese sabers on the market are either ornate Nguyen dynasty ceremonial parade pieces, or fairly simple but practical fighting swords. More rare are high quality sabers that are both aesthetically pleasing but at the same time suitable for practical use.
Overall length: 79 cm / 31 inch
Blade length: 63 / 24.8 inch
Blade thickness: 8mm at base, 5mm middle, 4mm at tip.
Weight: 762 grams
This Vietnamese officer's sword probably dates from the early 19th century. It is built around a superb blade of a style that is very reminiscent of Chinese officer sabers of the height of the Qing dynasty of the 18th century. Characteristic features are the blade geometry and its grooves: A wide center groove with a narrower dorsal groove that terminates about two-thirds up the blade to make place for a very sharply defined false backedge. A purely Vietnamese element is the very narrow groove under the prominent center groove that terminates on both sides in a floral engraving, just like on a Vietnamese fighting saber we offer elsewhere on the site.
Blade of forge folded construction with inserted high-carbon edge plate, exhibiting high standards of workmanship with considerable precision in the definition of its various features. There is a clear demarcation between the soft steel body and the hard edge left by the differential heat-treatment, to be seen through very nice cloudy waves of crystalline structures following the contours of the edge, clearly visible even from a distance. The sturdy blade starts very thick at the base at 8mm, tapering down to half that towards the tip, giving it a very nimble balance for a blade this thick and hefty.
The handle consists of a beautiful piece of dark brown to mildly translucent amber colored horn. The hilt fittings consist of a brass ring and a brass sleeve reaching up to the guard. The sleeve is engraved with two kīrttimukha or "faces of glory", demonic icons that were believed to be able to ward off evil.1 The brass guard consists of two plates, one held inside the rim of the other. It is pierced with four comma-shaped openings, reminding strongly of the Japanese tomoe motif they probably derived off.
This motif appears in Japanese art in varieties with two, three, or four comma's. The threefold version, called mitsudomoe originally stood for the Shinto deity of archery and war, Hachiman, and was adopted as a family crest by various Samurai families. As such, it is frequently encountered on Japanese sword guards as well. It was also the official symbol of the old Ryukyu Kingdom and is still associated with Okinawa in particular. The version with four tomoe reminds of a stylized swastika, an auspicious symbol that was strongly associated with Buddhism from India to Japan.
It comes with its original rosewood scabbard with brass mountings. The scabbard endpiece may be an early working-life replacement, as the scabbard was carved to accommodate it. It is nevertheless well-made, of sturdy brass. A small portion of the scabbard is wrapped with snakeskin. Mounts and scabbard in sound condition.
1See: Donald J. LaRocca, Curator arms and armor of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Quoted from THE GODS OF WAR; Sacred Imagery and the Decoration of Arms and Armor, 1996, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.).
Comparison to an early Vietnamese sword
We also have another Vietnamese saber for sale, a 14th or 15th century excavated piece that probable belonged to the Cham civilization, that shows a remarkable continuity in style. Compare the blade curvature to handle shape, up to the style of the guard with tomoe cutouts.
Restoration / condition
Blade in recent polish to reveal its differential heat treatment. Other parts in original condition, retaining a beautiful old patina throughout. The brass sleeve on the hilt is split on either side. Blade in excellent condition with only minor pitting left at the base. No nicks, cracks or other edge damage, retaining its original contours. All surfaces are ground very precise, as can be clearly seen from the pictures.
A rare example of a Vietnamese officer's saber with a superb blade, showing strong influence from Chinese sabers of the Qing empire mixed with typical Vietnamese elements such as the floral engravings. The guard seems to be inspired by Japanese examples, a tradition that seems to go back at least to the 15th century, predating the earliest documented direct contact of the two cultures. The piece is of excellent quality and in excellent condition, with no recent repairs other than a blade polish.