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Rare Tibetan Sword

Place of Origin: Tibet

Date: 18th-19th century

Reference: 099

Status: Sold

Full Description:

A possibly unique silver mounted Tibetan straight sword.  Most others of this period, and those with enough similar characteristic to be included in the same group, have trefoil pommels (1).  The pommel here is bulbous in form, and shares more in common with an important iron sword hilt (2) ( in the Metropolitan museum, New York, which can only be identified as Tibetan, Mongolian or Chinese, thirteenth to fourteenth century.  The Met. hilt is heavily damascened with gold and silver, and on the pommel there is a large flaming pearl on a lotus base.  We see the same concept on the sword shown here; the pearl replaced by a red coral, the flames and the lotus base, represented with pierced and chased heavy silver.

The grip is covered in ray skin with traces of blue, a pigment derived from azurite which could be found in deposits in the Tsang province north of the Tsangpo river.  Jackson states ‘because of the importance in painting, the Lhasa government strictly controlled the mining and primary distribution of the pigment (azurite), so that artists usually got it directly or indirectly from a government office.’ (3)

The handguard is also unusual, consisting of a flat piece of silver in a teardrop shape, with a fretted skirt decorated with cloud patterns.  The upper and lower scabbard mounts are decorated in much the same way as the pommel, and have pierced silver naturalistic swirls with a centrally mounted light green turquoise, and a red coral respectively.  Two brackets for belt straps are attached to the right edge of the scabbard by two horizontal silver bands each pierced and chased and matching the other silver fittings.  Each loop is flanked by two snarling Makara faces symbolising firmness and unshakability.

The wooden body of the scabbard is precisely made to fit the blade, which glides easily in and out.  Covered on the exterior with what is believed to be vellum, this adds another fascinating and unusual aspect to this sword.  The blade orientation in relation to the hilt indicates that it was made to be hung from a waist belt on the left-hand side of the body.  Single edged, with an oblique tip, the blade is in fine condition, and displays a prominent hairpin pattern (thur) consisting of five thick dark lines.  This forging technique is typical of Tibetan blades, in which alternating folded rods of hard and soft iron are combined with the aim of creating a blade which is both strong and flexible.

(1) LaRocca, Warriors of the Himalayas, 2006, p.157-163.

(2) LaRocca, Warriors of the Himalayas, 2006, p.156,

(3) Jacskon, David and Janice, Tibetan Thangka Painting, 1984, p.75.


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