Carved scabbard shuangjian
Overall length

Sheathed 60 cm

Sword A 56 cm

Sword B 56 cm

Blade length

A 42.7 cm

B 42.7 cm

Blade thickness

A
forte 5 mm
middle 5.5 mm
5 cm from tip 3.5 mm

B
forte 5 mm
middle 5 mm
5 cm from tip 3.5 mm

Blade width

A
forte 31.5 mm
middle 29 mm
5 cm from tip 24 mm

B
forte 31 mm
middle 28 mm
5 cm from tip 23.5 mm

Weight

Sheathed 1115 grams

A 438 grams

B 429 grams

Point of balance

A 10.3 cm

B 9.5 cm

(from hilt side of guard)

Materials

Iron, steel, brass, wood

Origin

Guangzhou, China

Dating

1830s - 1840s

Provenance

From a Dutch private collection

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Introduction

Paired straightswords, called shuāngjiàn (雙劍), are part of a long tradition of carrying side-arms in China both as personal protection and as status symbols. The majority of them are shortswords, called duǎnjiàn (短劍).

Once Western travelers got access to the ports of China, the size and ornamentation of such swords made them popular souvenirs, which in turn spawned an industry of souvenir-grade pieces in the late Qing dynasty and many pieces being cranked out that are of questionable quality.

We should be careful however to judge them all as curios. The native market for such pieces was still there for most of the 19th century, as scholar's talisman pieces for in their studios, as status symbols carried proudly from the belt, or in some cases as a dueler's side-arm.

 

Description

A nice set of short shuāngjiàn. Each blade is forge folded, with some of the layering visible in its current, unpolished state. Both blades are of flattened diamond cross-section with secondary edge bevel and so-called "male point" with a triangular tip. These features are common traits of these double shortswords. The blades look like they may have seen use, with cuts into the flats by another weapon.

Each hilt is fitted with brass mounts, featuring a prominent zoomorphic guard in the shape of a Tāotiè (饕餮), a lion-like all-devouring monster that is always depicted without its lower jaw.

The ferrule and pommel are decorated with floral engravings and punchwork. The pommels feature a stylized longevity symbol called shòu () surrounded by bats,  (). This is one of the major styles of fittings found on Chinese shortswords, also called fúshòujiàn (福壽劍). Usually, the guards are en suite with the pommels, with another shòu symbol but in this case, the more elaborate Tāotiè were used.

The grips are nicely carved of good quality buffalo horn, with slightly hollow flats and ribs. The hilts are flat and unadorned on the reverse so they neatly fit into the scabbard together.

The scabbard is made of fine dark hardwood, mounted with a set of fúshòu scabbard mounts. Made of three layers, with a plate separating the two swords when sheathed. It is carved entirely with nicely executed swastika fretwork and items associated with the Eight Immortals of the Daoist pantheon.

 

Symbolism

The Tāotiè on the guards are seen as auspicious creatures, devouring negative energy. On a deeper level, they may represent the "epitomization of the self-consuming mystery that is life".

The bats and longevity symbols on the brass mounts form the pun fúshòu (福壽), meaning a long and happy life. 

The scabbard features carvings of items associated with six of the Eight Immortals, on a swastika fretwork background. The swastika, pronounced wàn represents the number 10.000 in traditional Chinese culture, the highest number that can be written with a single character. Interlocking swastikas are seen as wàn bù zhàn (卍不戰) or "10.000 times not cut off", referring to the eternal escape of ill fate.

The immortals represented are:

Front side:
1. Double gourd of Li Tieguai, which contains all magical medicines.
2. Fan of Zhongli Quan, the military man.
3. Sword of Lu Dongbin, the patron saint of scholars.

Reverse side:
1. Bamboo drum and rods of Zhang Guo, the eccentric alchemist.
2. Castanets of Cao Guojiu, the patron deity of acting and theatre.
3. Flute of Han Xiangxi, the Patron Saint of Musicians. The flute resembles harmony.

 

Dating

The scabbard of this set is carved in an identical manner to a set of ivory-hilted shuāngjiàn I sold a few years ago. That piece was dated to the 1830s-1840s, and attributed to Guangzhou based on the distinct work on the ivory. It is fairly safe to assume that this set was produced in Guangzhou at around the same time, possibly even by the same workshop.

 

Condition

Good condition overall. Some cuts into the blades from another weapon, mostly into the flats. Some play in the hilt mounts, but both grips are tight. Scabbard mouthpiece missing. Some wood missing at scabbard mouth. Scabbard otherwise structurally sound. See photos.

 

Conclusion

A nice set with high-quality mounts for the genre, and a rarer, nicely carved scabbard. It is a nice user-grade set, made "for the culture', with decent weight and balance in the blades.

Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard
Double duanjian with carved hardwood scabbard

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