Place of Origin: China
Date: Circa 1800 (Qing dynasty)
Overall : 990mm (35.5 inches)
This is an exceptionally long Chinese jian from the turn of the 18th century. This sword type was associated with the Chinese civilian elite and the quality of this example suggests that it was made for minor nobility or a senior government official.
This sword is mounted with the original brass fittings, still with traces of gold on them. The unusual square sabre guard is a highly unusual feature on a jian and this one is deeply chiselled with high relief. It too retains some of the original gilding, decorated identically on both sides and depicting two dragons with sinuous bodies writhing amongst clouds while chasing a flaming pearl. Of important note are the four claws on the rear legs of the dragons, another indication that the sword was made for a man of considerable status.
The wooden grip has been carefully re-wrapped in the proper manner using high-grade silk cord—even the colour has been matched to the original’s remnants. The multi-lobed pommel is chased with bats on both sides (a Chinese symbol for good luck) and the scabbard is covered in shagreen dyed in a ruby red colour. The chape and locket have matching bat designs and cut-outs in bat shapes that provide windows through which to view the beautiful grain of the shagreen. The suspension bar and rings are plain but again show traces of gold. A further mount depicts a mythical dragon crawling up the scabbard—a feature typical on Chinese jians (the most intriguing example I have seen of this feature is on a jade-hilted jian in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum (acc.no.32.75.308a, b)1
The long, straight blade has a pattern-welded steel body with an inserted high-carbon plate which is partially exposed at the edges and tip. The resultant cloudy line along the edges is what is termed a ‘horse tooth’ pattern and highly sought after by collectors. It is created by precisely polishing the edge at regular intervals, revealing the carbon plate at the desired points. A loose comparison can be made with the ‘Prophet’s ladder’ pattern on Indian and Persian blades: a deliberate trauma to the blade to create ‘steps’. Both techniques require a high degree of skill, and ultimately create objects of great beauty.