Saber and Scabbard


Not on view

This saber and matching scabbard are distinguished by a unique combination of Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese features, executed with great skill and harmoniously united in a single object. Most important is the distinctively pattern welded blade, a technique which involves purposely forging together iron and steel of different properties to produce particular patterns that are visible throughout the surface of the finished blade. In this example, the center of the blade has a classic Tibetan hairpin pattern, named for the series of nested lines that form the body of the blade. The edge of the blade has a tooth-like pattern, called tiger teeth or horse teeth and is characteristic of Chinese and Mongolian blade forging techniques. The weight, shape, and form of the blade, particularly the distinctive tip, are Mongolian in influence. These features do not appear to be combined in this way on any other blade. The suspension bands and the suspension bar are characteristic features of Chinese scabbards, but are sometimes found on swords made in Tibet, possibly for use in Eastern Tibet or China and influenced by the styles favored in the western provinces of China and in Mongolia.

The engraved and damascened decoration of the hilt and scabbard fittings are on a par with the best metalwork of this type from this period in Central Tibet. The finely pierced and inset silver panels of the locket and chape are an unusual feature; pierced panels of this type are usually iron with scrollwork that is more simplistic and crude. The overall form of the hilt, including the langet on the guard, and the shape of the locket and chape have their closest parallels in a finely made silver mounted sword in the Victoria and Albert Museum (no. IM.218-1927, published as no. 67 in LaRocca, Donald J. 2006. Warriors of the Himalayas: Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.), which belonged to Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1899–1905, who was instrumental in authorizing the British incursion into Tibet in 1903–1904, known as the Younghusband Expedition. The V&A sword, among the best of its type, was probably acquired in Tibet by Col. Francis Younghusband, the expedition's leader, and presented to Curzon shortly after the completion of the campaign.

The hilt comprises a trefoil pommel, a plain wood grip made in two halves, a collar at the base of the grip, and a double trefoil guard notched with a deep indentation at the center front and back. A trefoil tab or langet, perpendicular to the hilt and parallel with the blade, is found on the underside of the front of the guard. In the center of the front of the pommel there is a hemispherical green turquoise bead set in a silver bezel. The front of the pommel and grip collar, the top of the guard, and the langet are engraved with curling scrollwork framed by a narrow border. The sides of the pommel, collar, and guard are incised with a repeating fret pattern. All the areas of engraved decoration are finely crosshatched and damascened in gold. The back of the pommel and collar and the underside of the guard are plain. There is a plain iron tassel ring in the center of the back of the pommel. The pattern welded blade is single edged and curves slightly upward toward the point. The back edge of the point has a series of five notched cusps. The pattern welding features a hairpin pattern running the length of the blade and a band of beading or tooth pattern along most of the cutting edge. The Tibetan word ru is inscribed on the reverse side of the blade (with the edge down), about 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) from the guard.

The scabbard has a wood core wrapped in pebbled dark brown or black leather and clad with decorated iron fittings, including a locket, chape, two suspension bands, and a suspension bar, the front and sides of which are all engraved and damascened to match the hilt. The backs are plain. There is a panel of sheet silver pierced in a scrollwork pattern and inset into the center of the locket and the chape. The top of the locket has an undecorated recess to engage the langet. The chape extends in two long channels that form a frame for the lower half of the scabbard. Two similar but shorter channels extend from the locket. Each of the suspension bands has an ogival cartouche in the center with a bead (one turquoise, the other green glass) in a silver bezel. The suspension bar has two loops. Attached to the loops are two leather suspension straps, which meet in a u-shaped iron belt ring.

Saber and Scabbard, Steel, gold, silver, turquoise, leather, wood, Sino-Tibetan

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Overall front