Early duanjian overall
Overall length

Sheathed 60.9 cm

Sword 60.7 cm

Blade length

47.8 cm

Blade thickness

Base 6 mm

Middle 5 mm

5 cm from tip 4 mm

Blade width

Base 27.5 mm

Middle 23.5 mm

5 cm from tip 20 mm

Weight

Sheathed 653 grams

Sword 399 grams

Point of balance

10.2 cm

(from hilt side of guard)

Materials

Iron, steel, brass, wood, cottom

Origin

Southern China, possibly Longquan or Guangzhou

Dating

Late 18th - early 19th century

Provenance

From an American collection

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Description

A nice example of an earlier Chinese duǎnjiàn (短劍).

It is built around a thick, traditionally forged blade with inserted high carbon steel edges on a body of tough iron. Blade is in recent polish, revealing its construction including some cloudy effects of the heat treatment. It has a pronounced center ridge and concave "flats" to give lots of support to the edge.

A peculiar feature is 12 rectangular iron "plugs" that seem inlaid into the blade, only visible on one side.

Plugs in steel

 

The hilt has a ribbed, hardwood grip and is mounted in thick brass mounts with kuíwén (夔紋) style decoration consisting of archaic kuī-dragon patterns. Such patterns were inspired by those seen on very early Chinese bronzes which were prized collectibles among the Chinese elite as well as the emperor. The kuíwén type is almost exclusively seen with Tāotiè (饕餮) guards, and this sword is no exception.

The dark hardwood scabbard is mounted in a full set of five heavy brass kuíwén style mounts. It features a large center suspension mount with a shield with a rain dragon, or chīlóng (螭龍), recognizable by its salamander-like appearance and bifurcated tail.

The smaller suspension mount bears the name Lóngquán (龍泉) in seal script. A referral to the famous sword-making center in Zhejiang province. Many Lóngquán marked swords were not many in Lóngquán. With this particular type, I am not sure. The mounts are of a style that became very popular in Guangzhou but the execution on this particular sword is a lot better than those, making me think that perhaps this might be a Lóngquán original that the later ones are based on. It is also entirely plausible that it just represents an earlier, finer style of the Guangzhou style.

Notice that the suspension loops are positioned so that the sword is worn with the hilt backwards; Manchu style.

 

Condition

Blade with some nicks and hairline cracks in the hard edge. Some minor damage to some of the fittings, including some cracks in the pommel and mouthpiece. The hilt is tight. See photos for a good overall impression of the condition.

 

Conclusion

A nice example of a Chinese duǎnjiàn with a very traditional blade in terms of style and construction. It is fitted with a very good set of kuíwén style mounts with Tāotiè guard, heavier than most and executed to greater precision than the norm. The use of dark wood for both scabbard and hilt, instead of more expensive materials conveys a humbleness that was appreciated in the 18th century. Aside the blade, which is in recent polish, the whole has a beautiful dark patina.

As for dating, I believe this to be an earlier example of this type of sword, most likely dating from the late 18th to very early 19th century.

Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian
Early Chinese duanjian

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