This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
IN our previous notes on this subject we gave examples of tsubas of solid silver, of silver inlaid with gold, of chiselled iron, and of chiselled iron inlaid with silver. The present examples illustrate further the variety of metals upon which Japanese artists and craftsmen lavished the highest skill in the embellishment of the sword handle. It is quite in accordance with the correct national taste to combine, in their finest works of art, the most precious and the least costly materials. As opposed to the barbaric notion, common among nearly all European nations, that only gold and silver are worthy of the highest skill of the artist in metal, in Japan the chief desire seems always to have been to triumph over the technical difficulties imposed by the material. In the present examples we have a remarkably fine copper sword-guard, with the figure in gold and shibuitshi. As explained elsewhere, the latter is a silver bronze, as shakudo is a gold bronze. This beautiful alloy, silvery grey in colour, is capable of receiving very line chiselling.
The bronze tsuba, with its spirited design, in shakudo and solid silver, of a girl driving away a demon by throwing rice at him, illustrates, we are told, a popular legend well known in Japan.
Bronze Sword-guard, by Thedskumi (a.d. 1800), in Shakudo and Solid Silver, representing a Girl driving away a Demon.
There are other bronzes employed for sword-guards, such as yellow bronze and red bronze, of which latter the sword-guard, by Teroutsougou, which we reproduce, is a fine specimen. Tsubas are often decorated with blossoms in silver or gold plated on a copper foundation, or on the bronze itself; sometimes wrought in the mass and inserted.
The most richly decorated sword-guards are of comparatively recent times, from the beginning of the eighteenth century close up to and even during the Civil War in 1868. Of this period are most of the highly wrought guards exquisitely decorated in many-coloured metals, or in silver only on stippled grounds of shakudo or other metal. This stippling, though so regular as almost to have the appearance of machine work, is all clone by hand.
Sword-guard, by Teroutsougou.
Red Bronze, inlaid with Gold and Silver.
There are iron sword-guards which look as if they were- cast from the wax. But they are not so; they are invariably hammered, and the waxy look is due to the quality of the iron and to the prolonged beating which it has received in order to toughten and harden it. Of course, a cast-iron sword-guard would never have done for actual use. It would have been broken off by a single blow of a good blade. All the delicate modelling in low relief which we often find on old iron guards has been produced by the hammer - hammer and punch principally, just as in repousse work. But, except in the very oldest specimens, very fine chisels and burins were used in finishing the design. With these, the surface was rather scraped or shaved down than cut into, as in ordinary chasing. But the long and laborious hammering being a necessary operation, the tendency of the best artists was to make the most of it artistically. Some surprising "tours de force" have been accomplished without the use of the chisel. For instance, guards worked "a jour," in intricate patterns. We shall show examples of these.
The Tsuaba • Or Sword-Guard
Copper Sword-Guard With Figure In Gold And Shibuitshi • Made By Toshimitsu . A.D. 1800
Above Is Shown The Reverse Of The Same Sword-Guard