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Thread: Jian with Intricately Carved Ivory Handle

  1. #1

    Jian with Intricately Carved Ivory Handle

    Here are two jian with ivory handles, intricately carved. I do not see many of these, so when I do, I find them fascinating.

    These pictures are courtesy of Hermann Historica, online catalogue #48.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Mullane View Post
    Here are two jian with ivory handles, intricately carved. I do not see many of these, so when I do, I find them fascinating.

    These pictures are courtesy of Hermann Historica, online catalogue #48.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane
    Truly fascinating Doug. Thank you very much for sharing. Is there any classification of jians based on their lengths and also handle? There are some articles on the classification of dao but not jian. Is it due to the fact that dao replaced jian in the military? But I still believe there should be some characteristics for the identification of jians.

    Kind regards

    Manouchehr

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    As civilian weapons, jian haven't been subject to regulations for a long time so it's hard to classify them according to historical references as we do with different types of dao.

    There is a general differentiation between duanjian and changjian, (short and long) but that's it. Some short jian are as heavy as long jian, some are fairly light and feel like long daggers.

    I find these two questionable. Perhaps they are made in the late 19th century as temple swords, but they're obviously not real weapons with serviceable blades. The rather crude shaping of the tip doesn't look too good, and reminds me of many fakes I've seen in China. For how much did these sell?

    -Peter

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    I'm going to echo Peter's last paragraph, not because these are so ornate that you'd rather keep these on display else you'd wreck a piece of art, but when you look into the hollow, you don't really see the tang all too well -- if there's even one there.

    But it looks like two halves that are sheathed as a whole.
    Adrian
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    I wonder how those carvings would withstand combat.
    I've seen many ivory carvings in China, but never on a sword.
    Also, about the tang; the most common way of attaching a sword to a handle is by splitting the wood in half and carving out room for the tang.
    another way of doing this without splitting the handle in half; is to drill a hole through. However, a hole wouldnt be large enough to contain a tang that could withstand use. Also, IF the hole was big enough to room a tang that would be thick and strong enough to withstand use; those ivory carvings would most surely go as deep as down to the tang.
    Perhaps parallel holes were drilled in, and additional room was carved out in order to room a broad and flat rectangular tang, however I find it most unlikely.

    It would be interesting to get a closer look to the different angles of those handles, as well as where the blade enters, passes through the guard and into the handle itself. Pictures of the back of the pommel would be great also.

    Ivory is not very tolerant to heat, and any heat from friction due to the use of a power-drill or sawing instruments will cause the layers in the ivory to crack up. Such mistakes are unrepairable. Needless to say; those carvings has required quite some time to be made.

    Best regards, Kenneth A.H.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Manouchehr M. View Post
    Truly fascinating Doug. Thank you very much for sharing. Is there any classification of jians based on their lengths and also handle? There are some articles on the classification of dao but not jian. Is it due to the fact that dao replaced jian in the military? But I still believe there should be some characteristics for the identification of jians.

    Kind regards

    Manouchehr
    Manoucher,

    I do not recall any classification for the jian based handles. I know you do that in your book, Arms and Armor from Iran, and such would be an interesting study here.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Dekker View Post
    I find these two questionable. Perhaps they are made in the late 19th century as temple swords, but they're obviously not real weapons with serviceable blades. The rather crude shaping of the tip doesn't look too good, and reminds me of many fakes I've seen in China.
    Peter,

    Thank you for your input. You mention the "rather crude shaping of the tip." What are you referring to in particular? You must see something here that I don't.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Adrian Ko View Post
    I'm going to echo Peter's last paragraph, not because these are so ornate that you'd rather keep these on display else you'd wreck a piece of art, but when you look into the hollow, you don't really see the tang all too well -- if there's even one there.
    Adrian,

    I definitely see your point. Although ivory is a very strong material, used the world over, there is not enough detail from the pictures to gague where the tang is. I would like to know how deep the carving goes into the handle. And I most certainly would not want to risk breaking the carving by gripping it too tightly.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Kenneth, H. View Post
    I wonder how those carvings would withstand combat.
    I've seen many ivory carvings in China, but never on a sword.
    I wonder this too.
    It would be interesting to get a closer look to the different angles of those handles, as well as where the blade enters, passes through the guard and into the handle itself. Pictures of the back of the pommel would be great also.
    Agreed!
    Needless to say; those carvings has required quite some time to be made.
    Yes. That is why I posted this sword here because I have not seen such carving on a Chinese sword before. It is interesting.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane

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    The tip of a well made jian is more rounded, instead of a V-shape. Antique jian even tend to get more round from use and Ming era jian tips were shaped very round to start with.

    Another give-away, for example, is the bing'gu or ferrule. It seems to bw made of flimsy brass with a not so well executed coin decoration.

    The coins (a wish to get rich) are also an odd combination with the taiji at the pommel side.. Actually all decoration doesn't seem to add up, as if it's made out of composite parts. If it was made this way, it was something only late Qing or contemporary makers would dare come up with. Earlier decorations tend to be more refined and coherent.

    I even doubt if that really is ivory.. if so, it might come from an older pair of jian or different objects entirely.

    -Peter

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Dekker View Post
    The tip of a well made jian is more rounded, instead of a V-shape. Antique jian even tend to get more round from use and Ming era jian tips were shaped very round to start with.
    The tip should be more rounded? I suppose I am a bit more confused here. Maybe there is some information that I am just missing? Should a particular part of the tip be rounded?
    I even doubt if that really is ivory.. if so, it might come from an older pair of jian or different objects entirely.
    While a close-up shot would help, there does appear to be something like an age line in one of the handles of the second picture, which could indicate a variety of ivory. Upon what do you base your position that they could not be ivory handles?

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane

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    The tips show two angles where the edge starts to rund to the tip. This is not a traditional construction.

    I suspect it's not ivory because I've seen the Chinese fake practically everything, I've even seen what I thought was a wooden statue that turned out to be plastic. It had a very natural wood grain and smelled like real cedar. Only cutting a piece off and burning it showed it was artificial.

    The thing is, if these handles are really ivory, then the workmanship and cost of the handles are in no way on level with the rest of this set. So therefore I either thing that it might be a cheaper and more easy to obtain material, and something that is more easily crafted. OR, that they are true ivory handles that came from somewhere else.

    -Peter

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Mullane View Post
    The tip should be more rounded? I suppose I am a bit more confused here. Maybe there is some information that I am just missing? Should a particular part of the tip be rounded?
    Doug,

    This is how the tip of an antique jian normally looks. There is a subtle but distinct difference between this and the ivory handled jian.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Lampe View Post
    Doug,

    This is how the tip of an antique jian normally looks. There is a subtle but distinct difference between this and the ivory handled jian.
    Thanks for the picture. Am I the only one who can still not see a difference? Is it due to the shape of the tip?

    Kind regards
    Manouchehr

    Edited to add: Is it due to the angle?
    Last edited by Manouchehr M.; 02-05-2007 at 12:04 PM.

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    Yes, it's the angle and pointyness.

    -Peter

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    I'm certainly no expert and I'm only going by this antique (tip shaped and polished by Phillip Tom) and reproductions I've seen that are hightly regarded by people such as Scott Rodell and Philip Tom.

    To me, the difference is that the antique has a smooth, continuous and graceful curve to the point. The two short jian in this thread have a more angular and acute shape as it narrows to the tip. I've seen the same type thing in Japanese swords. The tips of the real ones are very graceful and flowing while the tips of many fake antiques are more crude in appearance.

    I can't express an opinion on these two jian because my experience and knowledge are limited. The shape of the tips was the first thing that made me suspicious of their origin but that is only a red-flag. They may well be legit. I wouldn't form an opinion until we hear from more people with extensive knowledge and experience.

  17. #17
    The initial picture looks like a harsh angle to the point, whereas the antique shown has a point where the angle rounds from the straight to the point. (I have no idea which is historically accurate, just pointing out the differences)

    As for the twin sword aspect, there is a form that uses them in my style of taijiquan. However, I am not sure of its lineage or historical accuracy, or if it were developed as a way to extend the existing jian form to a "dual-wield" model that just used such swords as the tool.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Mullane View Post
    Adrian,

    I definitely see your point. Although ivory is a very strong material, used the world over, there is not enough detail from the pictures to gague where the tang is. I would like to know how deep the carving goes into the handle. And I most certainly would not want to risk breaking the carving by gripping it too tightly.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane

    Carving depth -- ah, good point. The reverse side of the carving is flat, as the two swords would be placed against each other before being sheathed.

    The inner shadow of the carving may be throwing us off. There could be a tang, even if placed off-center, but then you'd have to ask how such tang construction would handle shock.
    Adrian
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Dekker View Post
    The tip of a well made jian is more rounded, instead of a V-shape. Antique jian even tend to get more round from use and Ming era jian tips were shaped very round to start with.

    ...

    I even doubt if that really is ivory.. if so, it might come from an older pair of jian or different objects entirely.

    -Peter
    Were they more rounded to to tip wear, or that the swordsmen started using them as cutting tips instead of piercing tips? If the latter, wouldn't it make all those thrusting moves in period martial arts of limited value?

    Of the latter, what material do you suggest it might be other than ivory? If it were old but not ivory, what materials would they have used in their time to make something like this? Did they have some kind of resin back then?

    Doug, can you post a larger scan of the hilt?
    Adrian
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    Were they more rounded to to tip wear, or that the swordsmen started using them as cutting tips instead of piercing tips? If the latter, wouldn't it make all those thrusting moves in period martial arts of limited value?
    More round tips as the one Klas posted are certainly good thrusters. Most Yari are also equipped with tips like that. It seems the best tradeoff between strength and sharpness.

    In testing, a jian shaped dagger (http://www.coldsteel.com/peacekeep.html) was the only thing that effectively pierced a new type of bulletproof armor a friend of mine sells in his shop. This says something about the effectiveness of these tips in actual battle.

    Of the latter, what material do you suggest it might be other than ivory? If it were old but not ivory, what materials would they have used in their time to make something like this? Did they have some kind of resin back then?
    That depends on what we call "back then". If they are made like this, (and not of composite origin) I think these are turn of the century tourist curio's at best. White horn was and is pretty rare so still expensive, but perhaps it's some kind of bone that was carved. Labour is not the most expensive factor in China, you can buy fully hand carved woooden statues of detailed animals (some 7cm high) from 2 dollars today.

    I find it hard to believe these handles are ivory because it would be a waste of material on an otherwise not very well made pair of jian. If not ivory, I'm not sure what it is... bone or early sulphuric plastic in the worst case.

    On quality:
    Look at the small ring at the pommel side of the grip, and how it's not closed well. The "nut" at the end is incorporated in the pommel and thus not a real "nut", making one wonder how the tang ends, if it's even a full tang construction. The guard is so much like what's all over Longquan today, that it looks like they just sawed up a modern longquan fitting and gilded it.

    The scabbard looks decent though, and the sword hook is not something that's reproduced nowadays... but they have been made up until some 100 years ago. But keep in mind that 100 years ago there were already a lot of crap swords on the market, as Philip Tom has pointed out before.

    -Peter

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Dekker View Post
    but perhaps it's some kind of bone that was carved.
    Hmmm. Well, a close-up shot would definitely be helpful, but I cannot supply it. That said, I would reserve judgment that this is bone; at that distance, I see nothing that gives it away as bone in particular. if it were bone, one could probably see some trace of it. Simply because "the Chinese fake practically everything" does not mean this is fake; there is a possibility but not an absolute without a more definite analysis.
    I find it hard to believe these handles are ivory because it would be a waste of material on an otherwise not very well made pair of jian.
    Well, there is a lot of art that is made from various ivory and are not particularly as pleasing as similar forms (people for instance). I have seen some pretty interesting ivory pieces that made me wonder what the artist was thinking. It might not be that unusual.

    However, this sword pair could very well be a conglomeration of new and old pieces.

    Sincerely,

    Doug Mullane

  22. #22
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    Post Some comparisons...

    Hello.

    I've compared a couple of antique Long Quan Qing dynasty jian against the Herman Historica version. I've also pointed out one possible flaw in the fittings.
    comparisons.
    Notice the 'connecting' piece of metal between the two upper hooks on this picture.
    You can clearly see that the 'connecting' piece of metal is absent on the antique specimen, however it is clearly visible on the Hermann Historica jian as well as the modern Long Quan reproduction fitting.


    If you look closely at this picture, you'll notice that the 'connecting' piece of metal between the two hooks in the Hermann Historica specimen is also missing on these Antique fittings.


    Take a close look at these two guards. The guard to the right is the one from Hermann Historica, the left specimen is an antique. Notice how the nose of the dragon is placed at the very front of the guard.


    Here is a picture of another antique. You can clearly see that although the two antiques slightly differ in shape, the nose is also here located at the very tip of the guard, where as the Hermann Historica guard's nose is located further up, leaving more empty space at the very tip.


    Summary:

    Picture 1 and 2. I would suspect that the Herman Historica jian's fittings have been cast using the so called 'lost wax' method. This would explain the 'bridge connection' between the two hooks both in the Hermann Historica specimen as well as the modern Long Quan reproduction. The reason for this 'connection' is to sustain the flow of the metal, letting it flow into all the empty spaces of the mold. Notice how the two 'bridges' are connected at the very same place. . Quite suspicious, isn't it? And why didn't the antique specimens have this bridge as well? One explanation is perhaps that the antique fittings on picture 1 was made in iron, thus not cast.
    However, antique fittings in picture number two are indeed cast fittings, and they do not have this 'connecting' bridge. The reason why this 'connecting' piece of metal remains in modern reproductions is because the makers are often too lazy to remove it by hand...
    So how come does the Hermann Historica as well as the modern reproduction fittings have them? Coincidence? Perhaps... Likely? No..

    Picture 3 and 4. The differences between the two antique examples and the Hermann Historica specimen are too diffuse to clearly state whether or not the Hermann Historica specimen's guard is genuine or not.
    There has always been much variation in the style and motifs of Chinese swords, however the style of this sword states with 100% certainty and without doubt that the jian, antique or not, has been produced in Long Quan city in Zhejiang province in the People's Republic of China.

    As for the 'crude tip' as Mr. Dekker pointed out. I agree. however, if the case is that the specimen is indeed antique; the crude tip may be a result of the tip having been broken or damage and shortened down. However, whoever shortened it down sure did a lousy job, and it is unlikely that these two jian ever saw actual combat. I therefore doubt that the tips of the swords have been shortened down as a result of having been damage. However the possibility cannot be ruled out, although it is somewhat unlikely.

    All antique pictures are from Long Quan Knife & Sword Museum, courtesy of Mr. Zhou Zheng Wu, founder and owner of the museum.

    Best regards, Kenneth A.H.
    Last edited by Kenneth, H.; 02-06-2007 at 07:30 AM.
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  23. #23
    Kenneth-

    That was an excellent detailed analysis. As you say, the guard is of the Longquan type, but slightly crude for an antique. Do you think it matches the pommel? According to Peter, it does not, and I would tend to agree. The pommel does not match stylistically, but also looks like it was made even more crudely than the guard.

    I have seen tips just like those on cheaply made, turn of the century antiques, not intended for use, as well as on the increasingly abundant copies of older wall hangers. Both the copies and the antiques are often shuang jian with tortoise shell scabbards, so an ivory handle, real or not, would fit right in with the showy materials used to sell such trinkets.

    About tip styles: In various discussions I have seen references to three different types. The most common, as depicted by Chris rounds gracefully to a sharp tip. On antiques, the point has often subsequently become rounded with time, but usually the original shape can still be inferred. A less common form has a more triangular shape, similar but less crude than the ones being discussed. Usually it is a sign the tip has been reshaped, but I think some may be original. The Ming jian depicted in Scott's Chinese Swordsmanship book show a triangular tip. I saw somewhere that the round-shouldered tips are "female" and the triangular tips are "male", but I don't know the accuracy of this. Finally the most rare form is a semi-circular tip with no sharp point at all. Many older jian look like this, but usually this is due to wear. However, according to an old post from Athena, some jian were made this way in the first place.
    Josh

  24. #24
    Regarding tips...Josh is correct. Angular tips were made as well as the more rounded ones (that look something like an archway). In the late Qing era, based on available examples, the rounded tips were much more common on longer jian, whereas the angular were more common on shorter jian. There are exceptions...I once owned two very well-made examples of longer jian with angular, "male" points (I'm attaching photos of one of them). Examples of Ming era jian are rare, but artwork suggests that at least some of them had angular points, although of a much more obtuse angle than the Qing examples. Having said all that, the points on this pair appear a bit rough, but I'm hesitant to say anything definitive based upon the photos.

    Regarding carved ivory handles...I don't think I've seen such a thing on a Chinese sword. I do own several examples of Vietnamese straight swords (kiem) that have carved ivory handles (I'm attaching a photo of one of the most elaborate ones, which is likely some kind of marine ivory). All of these kiem were ceremonial and used in procession. IF this weapon's handles are genuine ivory, I would expect a similar function (although the presence of a belt hook suggests it was worn instead of carried). Also, IF it's genuine ivory, it would probably be quite recent, given the crispness (lack of wear) of the carving. I also have my doubts as to the ivory's authenticity, because if it is real, it would be of exceptional quality that simply is not echoed in the quality of the blade, scabbard, nor fittings.
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