Constructed out of dense hardwood and with fine mother-of-pearl inlays in the Vietnamese fashion.
A 94.2 cm
B 94 cm
A 80.8 cm
B 80.6 cm
A 63 cm
B 62.7 cm
A 4, 3, 2 mm
B 4, 3.5, 2 mm
A 24, 23.5, 16.5 mm
B 24, 23, 17 mm
A 605 grams
B 567 grams
Nguyễn dynasty, Vietnam
Steel, silver, wood, stone, mother-of-pearl
(Pinctada margaritifera, non-CITES listed)
2nd half 19th century
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The straightsword was an emblem of rank for the mandarin class of the Nguyễn dynasty (1885–1945). Their regalia, including their swords, were strongly based on Ming dynasty ceremonial regalia.
The Mandarin's highly ornamental ceremonial straightswords were typically carried around by their retainers during official assemblies. Matched pairs are rare but sometimes encountered. They were never worn suspended but typically carried in hand, inside their scabbard with the tip pointing up. The decoration on these thus tends to be aligned so that it is best viewed in this position.
A rather high-quality pair of Vietnamese ceremonial straightswords, or kiếm. The thin blades have a narrow profile and rounded tip, with two grooves on each side. All elements that we also see on Ming dynasty illustrations of straightswords. They are spring tempered and blunt, purely ceremonial. At the base of each is a silver collar piece, much like the Chinese tūnkǒu and clearly modeled after them.
Each hilt comprises of large silver guard and pommel, and carved hardstone grips. The silverwork on guard and pommel is done in repoussé, and then chased and chiseled from the front to enhance the detailing. The faces of the guards show a dragon swallowing a tablet with the character shòu (壽) meaning longevity. Around the edge of the guard are depicted the treasures of the Eight Immortals. The pommels, in the overall shape of a língzhī (靈芝) mushroom or stylized cloud, bears floral decoration that leans towards European rococo style acanthus leaves. Such an eclectic mix of styles is typical for Vietnamese work, a result of its ports being hubs of global maritime trade since the 16th century.
Both scabbards are made of dark hardwood, finely inlaid with mother-of-pearl depicting squirrel among grapevines on the base sections and butterfly among peaches on the upper sections. The inlay work is exceptional, with long, complex tendrils made of a single piece and minimal use of wood filler. It also exhibits very skillful inlays of mother-of-pearl within a border of mother-of-pearl where no filler is used at all; the fit is perfect.
The silver scabbard mounts are worked in repoussé, chased, chiseled to further detail over a finely punched background to add contrast. The base mount shows a tortoise that emits clouds from its mouth. The middle mount shows the qílín (麒麟) and phoenix. The scabbard endpiece is decorated with a dragon amongst clouds These animals combined are the Sì Shòu (四獸), each guarding a direction of the compass and a quadrant in the sky, with the Middle Kingdom being situated between them.
Very good condition. The usual denting on some of the silver mounts, but never is the main decorative element adversely affected. Some minor losses like some of the suspension rings on the scabbard mounts. (These rings are purely ornamental and were never actually used to suspend the piece.) Mother-of-pearl in very good condition with only one small piece missing. Some movement in the hilts. Otherwise complete. See photos.
These swords are mainly collected for the quality of the silverwork and the mother-of-pearl, both of which are top-notch on this set, while remaining in very good condition. Where most good Vietnamese kiếm have ivory hilts, this set has the added benefit of having stone hilts so the pieces are not subject to ever-tightening regulations on animal products. The mother-of-pearl is from a type of abalone which is also non-CITES listed.
A matched pair of Vietnamese ceremonial kiếm of high quality and very good condition, without the restricted materials so common on these.
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