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Old 24th June 2021, 04:25 PM   #1
pbleed
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Default Please help witha European blade in a Japanese tachi mount

I once again write to this community for help with the identification of an object I am researching for potential publication. I have asked for help in the past and always valued the help I have received. I hope that this is a fair exploitation of this wonderful community!
My question this time concerns a “Japanese Tachi” that seems certainly to have been made of a European blade with a modified, but fitting, iron scabbard. I am asking for help in trying to assess the origin and age of the blade. I would date the Japanese modification to to the “early” 19th century, but that is a guess.
Both the blade and the scabbard have been shortened from the tip end. The surviving length of the blade is 71.5cm. The scabbard – with 2 suspension rings - is 73cm long but the tip has been reworked and there is no drag. In addition to the shortening, the blade looks to me like it was given a decorative Japanese polish – what is called a “kesho polish” - that makes it look like the blade had a tempered edge, or ‘hamon.’ The surviving ricasso is 3.7 cm wide. It shows a squared broad fuller that runs the entire length of the blade.
My naïve guess is that this blade came from something like a very early 19th century German or British saber. My question to this forum is whether or not this guess is reasonable and might even be made more specific.
Thank you for your help!
Peter Bleed
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Old 24th June 2021, 05:38 PM   #2
Jim McDougall
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Hello Peter,
This is a most interesting anomaly!
I never dreamed that the Japanese would use a European blade in their swords in the manner that they found use in so many ethnographic contexts.
This blade, although notably reprofiled, is a British one from the M1796 light cavalry saber.
These were the first 'official' pattern sword introduced to the British army, and became famed for their resounding use in the Napoleonic wars.
They were somewhat replaced by the M1821 light cavalry saber, but with issues in that pattern, remained in use somewhat in certain contexts, particularly colonial as in India.

In India these remained much favored by native warriors, in fact so much so that these essentially 'obsolete' swords were absorbed by the Sikh's in the campaigns against the British in 1840s. The British were astounded by the deadly swordsmanship of the Sikhs, and more so when they discovered that their tulwar sabers held 'old' British blades.....the 1796!

I would imagine this blade might have found its way into the Japanese sphere a number of ways, however it is worthy of note that the Japanese swords were known in India in degree in trade situations through SE Asia in the mid to latter 19th century. Clearly these were not used in notable degree by warriors in Indian forces so possibly these may have been found in diplomatic or private enterprise circumstances.

It is amazing that the scabbard is modified in accord with the somewhat dramatic stock removal from the blade, which as seen in the British original, has a widened point known as a 'hatchet point'.
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Old 25th June 2021, 05:48 AM   #3
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G'day Peter,
At first glance I don't think this was a British 1796 pattern light cavalry sabre (Sorry Jim). The blade fuller and ricasso don't look right and neither do the scabbard bands. 1796's had a rat's tail tang. What sort of tang does this blade have? I will keep looking for what else it may be.
Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 25th June 2021, 05:18 PM   #4
Jim McDougall
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G'day Peter,
At first glance I don't think this was a British 1796 pattern light cavalry sabre (Sorry Jim). The blade fuller and ricasso don't look right and neither do the scabbard bands. 1796's had a rat's tail tang. What sort of tang does this blade have? I will keep looking for what else it may be.
Cheers,
Bryce
No problem Bryce, I was looking forward to you coming in!
By the numbers, you are right, there do seem to be certain disparities, but the only alternative ostensibly was the Prussian 'Blucher sabel' 1811. These were for all intents and purposes nearly identical to the 1796, but in a short time the blades seem to have gotten lighter and so on.

There is a great deal of reprofiling on this blade, so its hard to say, but in looking again, the spine over the fuller does seem unusual. I think what always throws me off is that the M1796 blades were so in favor in India, that the form essentially remained produced for native cavalry units well through the 19th century. With different makers, and changes in production runs, I believe that this could still be a 'version' of the 1796 under British auspices for the 'Raj'.
This still fits the situational context I had described with India. This form blade remained in use through the 19th c., was profoundly exported, as well as copied i.e. the Blucher sabel......which did not find those export circumstances.

Those are my thoughts, but as British swords are your specialized field, naturally I look forward to your further ideas and findings.

All the best
Jim
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Old 26th June 2021, 02:47 PM   #5
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Frankly I get a bit twitchy when I see these shotgun jobs. There are Western blades in Japanese style mounts, but the conversion is absolute, a habaki is fitted, a Japanese style tang created by moving the shoulders of the blade higher, and on occasion re-tempering in the Japanese manner.
I view this one with great suspicion, and think it more likely a joining of bits from a collectors spares pile. Sorry!
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Old 26th June 2021, 04:05 PM   #6
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Frankly I get a bit twitchy when I see these shotgun jobs. There are Western blades in Japanese style mounts, but the conversion is absolute, a habaki is fitted, a Japanese style tang created by moving the shoulders of the blade higher, and on occasion re-tempering in the Japanese manner.
I view this one with great suspicion, and think it more likely a joining of bits from a collectors spares pile. Sorry!
Well observed David. I must admit that this distinct possibility is always the very potential 'elephant in the room' that looms. However the eternal optimist in me always tries to find reasonable solutions to these anomalies, and I try to forget that 'there be very ugly charlatans out there' in our community.

The historian in me will try to find viable explanations for odd pairings, based on the fact that often in native or colonial contexts, ersatz weapons were fashioned from components from many circumstances and repurposed as required.

Here is an example of just such an 'unholy' pairing (I call it my 'Frankenstein' espada ancha) which is created from an three bar guard from uncertain military saber donor; the hilt of an equally undetermined briquet, and a cut down 18th c. Spanish dragoon blade. These blades, made in Solingen for export to the Spanish colonies c. 1750s are often termed 'Spanish motto' blades or simply Spanish dragoon blades. There were notable volumes of these blades sent to New Spain over many years, and these ended up mounted in many sabers with the three bar hilts.

In the rural, remote frontier regions by the 19th century the true espada anchas remained in use by horsemen mostly as utility weapons, but later, the frontier regions began being patrolled by groups of horsemen in a militia/police context known as 'rurales'. While of course armed with firearms, they typically augmented their 'uniform' with the traditional wearing of a sword. There were few armorers or resources in these remote frontier towns, but there was remarkable innovation in the repurposing of just about everything.

That is my 'optimistic' explanation for 'many' of these odd combinations, but the 'truth' we will only know with the dismantling of a weapon (which I personally am reticent to do) and some advanced forensic examination.
In my sword, I am satisfied with the corroborative age on the peen, and patination visible among the components. There is a '3' on the guard suggesting its one time use probably in a Mexican cavalry unit.
As a collectible weapon, it is a monstrosity, but for a historian such as myself, one imagines what separate adventures each of these now grouped components had.

The guard is most likely from a British M1821 light cavalry saber. The Mexican army was virtually entirely supplied with surplus British arms which were sold to them in the 1820s. While this was mostly muskets and various firearms, numbers of edged weapons of course found inclusion. In a museum here in Texas there is a M1821 saber found on the field at San Jacinto if I recall.
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Old 26th June 2021, 09:09 PM   #7
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Earlier this morning I prepared a response to the postings that were made to my inquiry about a European blade in a Japanese mount. I can assure you that I was witty and expressed deep gratitude to this community - - and then I managed to lose the file. Grrr!
The responses were very useful, tho and I want to acknowledge them. I will try to be more careful this time, but I assure you that my first draft was witty and pithy! I appreciate the reactions.
Jim’s response was – as usual - expert and useful. It was kind of in line with what I was thinking, but I have never had much contact with the 1796 British sabers and the ones I remember looking at all have those darn langets that hide the fullers, making it hard to know what they actually look like.
Bryce’s comments, of course, were comforting in that regard.
And I agree with David’s “twitchiness” about this blade. I am not ready to sell this sword, but I would like to present it in the collectors’ literature and I sure don’t want to publish a “fake.” We have all seen reworks and modifications, but I do NOT think that this is something that Bubba whipped up in his garage. I think it is “Japanese work.”
1. To be sure, this sword does NOT reflect the highest level of Japanese artistry. That is to be seen in the wonderful blade in the Leeds collection that Geraint reminded me of.
https://collections.royalarmouries.o...ect-54908.html
That sword shows us, however, that the Japanese were willing to treat foreign blades.
2. In addition to the overall “look”, two aspects of this tachi seem clearly “Japanese” to me. I think the polish really looks like a Japanese treatment, especially with the addition of a false “hamon.” I am also convinced that the clouds with dragon embellishments on the scabbard is ‘Japanese.’
3. There was, as well, a great fad in Japan during the late middle Edo period when wealthy fops like to get dressed up in foreign gear. I think this is the kind of thing that a wealthy guy could enjoy wearing when he was “on the town.”
Thanks for your help!
Peter
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Old 26th June 2021, 10:53 PM   #8
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Thank you very much Peter for the kind words.
I felt pretty strongly about this being a British M1796 blade, and after many years of study and handling of them, I have learned of the considerable cases of variation due to at first, the fact that the blade making industry was in its first stages. This led invariably to cases of somewhat subtle variation, then as the form continued (as I mentioned in India mostly) well through the 19th c. of course even more variation was present but basically the same type fuller.

I know of your extensive background in Japan, so I would not presume to advance too heavily into the dynamics of the 19th c. and the westernization of the country in the late Edo period into the Meiji.
In what led to the Satsuma Rebellion, and the abolishing of the Samurai, thus presenting the opportunity for all men to wear a sword (as you suggest), this may well be an example of an ersatz weapon made from a repurposed British blade.

Other earlier contact with the west had produced the western fascination with Oriental styling and motif. This became prevalent in early to mid 18th century smallswords and court swords with Chinese motif known as Tonquinese and Chinoiserie. Mostly this of course had to do with the Dutch and English East India Companies in Peking and Tonkin (Vietnam), however though technically closed, there was activity into Japan.
The styling on this scabbard reminds me of some of the motif on these earlier swords decorated in Europe in this manner.

While obviously this sword does not reflect the high artistry of the long tradition of Japanese sword makers, it does suggest someone desiring a sword in the known manner put together with the methods of that work notably imitated.
Certainly this seems to plausibly be a British blade which has come into the Japanese sphere in the third quarter of 19thc.to turn of century during these times of change, and well worthy of publication.

All very best,
Jim
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Old 27th June 2021, 05:59 AM   #9
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Before we get further along into the weeds, could you please post some images of the sword completely disassembled -- hilt off, showing the entirety of the tang, and the pommel and ferrule taken off the grip to show the jointing on the respective components?

I have in my reference library an article on a European blade mounted as a long wakizashi in a Danish museum, and mention of similar blade converted into a tanto now in the RAM, but let's see the "innards" of the subject of this thread before making any additional inquiry.
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Old 27th June 2021, 10:01 PM   #10
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G'day Peter,
As well as what the unmounted blade looks like, the sori measurement would also be useful. I measured what the sori of a typical 1796 LC sabre would be if cut down to 71.5cm and it is about 24mm. It looks to me like your blade is less curved than a 1796. Below are some photos showing the relevant parts of an average 1796. As Jim has mentioned there was a degree of variation between examples, but I don't think your's is a British 1796 or a German blucher. The fuller of your blade seems a little rough for a European sword of this period.
Cheers,
Bryce
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Old 28th June 2021, 09:26 PM   #11
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I remain grateful for the help and interest of this community. The growth of expert communities within – and on – internet communities truly has changed the rate and quality of understanding in collectors’ communities.
The discussion of potential candidates for the original blade that found its way into these mounts has been interesting. The British Model of 1796 would probably be how to bet. But anything could have found its way to an odd corner of early 19th century Japan - so I remain an agnostic or at least uncertain. There are those German Bluchers. And weren’t there early 19th century Dutch blades with wide fullers? The Dutch were still getting into Japan – legally – at that time.
Philip says that he will make sense of all this if I supply views of the disassembled sword. This sword has what the Japanese call a “Dashi-zame” or bare ray-skin. That means the kashira (the pommel) is fixed. I have removed the TSUBA to show the tang. It is abused, but note (!) that the washers (the seppa) were NOT recycled fittings from another Japanese style blade. They are NEW for this sword.
And to reveal a secret that I was not ready to share, in the attached picture I slipped the band in the middle of the handle back. It was loose enough to make that easy, but look what it covered – a Cross. That makes it tempting to speculate that the carrier of this sword was either a Christian or an ally of one of the southern leaders who had lined with Catholic missionaries. Or maybe he was just flashing a bunch of exotic symbols.
In any case this sword makes sense as something from the early to mid 19th Century. It was NOT something that would have been ginned up for the warfare that broke out AFTER the Meiji Restoration.
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Old 29th June 2021, 05:41 AM   #12
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Default A European blade remounted as a katana

This somewhat earlier example of what we're discussing has been published thanks to Per Terje Norheim in "A Euro-Japanese Sword in the National Museum in Copenhagen", Vaabenhistorisker Aarboger Vol. XVI (1970), pp 163-73. This most unusual saber (inv. no. Ab.56NMK) , ex-King Frederik VII Collection, was acquired by the Museum in 1864, its previous history is unknown.

The 79.3 cm blade dates from the second half of the 17th cent., probably Solingen or Maastricht manufacture, with etched figures of horsemen further embellished with (badly spelled) Latin inscriptions in a style seen on any number of military swords of the era from northern and eastern Europe. It is fullered the entire length and has a spear-tip profile with back-edge at the point. From the texture of the steel in the photograph, the tang appears to have been neatly lengthened with an extension probably at the time of remounting, with a hole drilled in the proper position for a mekugi for hilt attachment in the Japanese fashion.

The blade has had a habaki fitted to it, and the workmanship overall is very competent throughout, although the tsuba is from another sword (tang aperture widened to accommodate this blade) and the fucci and kashira are not en suite. Mr Norheim notes in his article that the scabbard seems specifically made to fit the fairly wide blade.

Determining the period which lapsed between manufacture of blade and its installation on the present fittings is difficult. The amount of corrosion and wear (parts of the etching are effaced as a result) suggest that the blade wasn't brand new when it entered the Japanese sword-fitter's shop. The author also states that we can only speculate as to the reason the blade was so mounted.
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Old 29th June 2021, 05:53 AM   #13
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Default And here's something similar...

The backstory on the piece cited in Peter's post #7...

In the same article referenced in my previous post is mentioned and illustrated this tanto. At the time of writing, it was in a British private collection and had been exhibited at a sword club show in that country. It's now in the Royal Armouries Museum, per the URL in post #7on this thread. The following remarks are based on Mr Norheim's description of it, in his comparison with the aforementioned sword.

This example is a bit more "high class" than the preceding; its mountings are much higher quality and bear the Matsuda (a daimyo family) crest.

The blade has also undergone a lot more in the way of "surgery" to reach its present state. It is a cut-down sword blade (analogous to European broadsword and riding-sword blades recycled into hooded cattars in Tanjore and other parts of South India). It was, according to the article, re-tanged in Japanese manner. Also re-tipped, re-tempered and polished à la japonnaise with parts of its original inscription remaining: " P.....SS Kejser [a Dutch rendition of Kaiser?] Anno... on one side, and on the other, " Me fecit Solingen 163 [3 or 5, numeral partially effaced].
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Old 29th June 2021, 06:23 AM   #14
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2. In addition to the overall “look”, two aspects of this tachi seem clearly “Japanese” to me. I think the polish really looks like a Japanese treatment, especially with the addition of a false “hamon.” I am also convinced that the clouds with dragon embellishments on the scabbard is ‘Japanese.’
3. There was, as well, a great fad in Japan during the late middle Edo period when wealthy fops like to get dressed up in foreign gear. I think this is the kind of thing that a wealthy guy could enjoy wearing when he was “on the town.”
Thanks for your help!
Peter
Hi, Peter

Your comments have prompted me to look at this sword yet again, and to be frank, the more I see of it the less inclined I am to think that this is a Japanese conversion. Most apparent is the workmanship, or rather the lack therof. The preceding two examples from museum collections show how carefully the remounts were done in a Japanese context. Both those pieces have habakis , features which are hallmarks of Japanese blades. A good kessho polish would create a much more convincing hamon. (and wouldn't a Japanese style polish deserve a proper scabbard and a habaki in order to keep the finish from getting rubbed and scraped?).

Stylistically, I see your point about a Japanese aesthetic. But I've seen similar cloud and dragon motifs on Korean scabbards as well, and there is a Joseon-era sword in the Met that has loose-ring suspension fittings just like this one. I attach an image of a Korean byeolun-geom which has the au naturel rayskin without silk wrapping on the hilt; indeed, unwrapped grips are far more prevalent on Korean swords than on Japanese. Also, the deep rounded pommel on your sword is practically identical to that on a Korean ferrule/pommel set I used to have, and the boar eye motif on same mirrors that on your sword's guard, whose engraved floral deco are also quite similar to what I've seen on other Korean mountings.

The overall build quality of your sword is also more in keeping with that of the munition-grade arms made late in Korea's dynastic history.

Lastly, I have seen pics of swords on display in military museums in Korea, and semi-Western styles were adopted towards the end of the royal period in the 19th cent.
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Old 30th June 2021, 06:41 PM   #15
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In keeping with Philips resoundingly astute suggestion of a Korean attribution here with this fascinating saber, I wanted to add some notes that I have come up with which might be salient in this consideration.

Until the arrival of Perry in 1854, Japan was indeed isolated as far as trade etc. with the world, however, the single inroad was the Dutch (former VOC) entrepot at Dejima Island (off coast of Nagasaki). Here trade with the west transpired into the East Indies networks.
This is a possible entry for a blade of German form of these '1796' types and as noted with Solingen or Dutch production, into possible Japanese context.

As Great Britain was of course quite colonially present in Hong Kong and other Chinese locations near mid century of course, there are possibilities for such British blades to have filtered into these same trade networks.
I would note here that I have seen (but no longer have images) of a complete M1796 British M1796 heavy cavalry sword with Chinese markings on the hilt, which was I believe among captured arms during the "Boxer Rebellion' (1900).

With this motif of clouds and dragons etc. on the scabbard, it seems that such decoration (in European favor with the Oriental styles I mentioned before used with these types of decoration) is seen on some Chinese weapons.

However, those styles of China seem like, as mentioned, may have made it into Korea as well.

I have a Korean 'peadao' (if I am correct on term) which as Philip has noted, would fall largely into the 'munitions' grade Korean arms made in mid 19thc possibly earlier. In this case, while the pommel cap and tsuba are quite simple, the grip is indeed wrapped and there is a habaki.
If I have understood correctly , after the Japanese take over in 1910, most Korean swords were destroyed.

I think there is a good case for this being a Korean use of this blade, whether British or German (I still feel it is British), and very likely c. mid century or slightly later. I think the cross on the reverse of the hilt is notably significant as well, considering the missionary circumstances in both China and Korea.
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Old 30th June 2021, 07:22 PM   #16
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As Great Britain was of course quite colonially present in Hong Kong and other Chinese locations near mid century of course, there are possibilities for such British blades to have filtered into these same trade networks.
I would note here that I have seen (but no longer have images) of a complete M1796 British M1796 heavy cavalry sword with Chinese markings on the hilt, which was I believe among captured arms during the "Boxer Rebellion' (1900).

I have a Korean 'peadao' (if I am correct on term) which as Philip has noted, would fall largely into the 'munitions' grade Korean arms made in mid 19thc possibly earlier. In this case, while the pommel cap and tsuba are quite simple, the grip is indeed wrapped and there is a habaki.
If I have understood correctly , after the Japanese take over in 1910, most Korean swords were destroyed.

I think there is a good case for this being a Korean use of this blade, whether British or German (I still feel it is British), and very likely c. mid century or slightly later. I think the cross on the reverse of the hilt is notably significant as well, considering the missionary circumstances in both China and Korea.
A Chinese-marked M1796 is not such an oddity considering that the Qing Dynasty was constantly at war with rebel and insurgent forces from the mid-19th cent. until its downfall. Arms merchants made fortunes importing weapons for all sides. The Manchu rulers were so strapped that during the Taiping Rebellion (which was far more destructive than the Boxer), the government utilized an ad-hoc force, the Ever-Victorious Army, ultimately led by Gen. Charles "Chinese" Gordon who later won laurels in the Sudan. Later in the century, Winchester printed a Chinese edition of its catalog, and wealthy merchants in the Canton area equipped their home town militias with better rifles than the Peking garrisons had. Krupp and Mauser also made a ton of money selling cannon and rifles not only to the Qing but the Ottomans as well.

The Korean munition-grade saber in the images you posted is a hwando, and indeed, most of those are wrapped with cloth braid. But there were other types of Korean saber, such as the mun'gwando and the byeolun'geom which mostly had unwrapped grips, surfaced with either bare ray skin or polished hardwood. The Korean version of the habaki is readily distinguished in form from the Chinese tunkou. Also it is of simpler construction than the original Japanese and doesn't seal the mouth of the scabbard as efficiently.

I don't know what to make of the cruciform pattern of the rayskin pieces under the central grip fitting. If it were a clandestine symbol, it is not as subtle as one would expect. Rather roughly executed, though perhaps not too out of place considering the overall level of craftsmanship elsewhere.

As I recall, Japan relaxed its proscriptions on Christianity not long after its opening to the West. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox missions were founded in the late 19th cent., and American Protestants were active as well. (I once read an article in an encyclopedia that the two wheeled people-powered cab called a jinriksha (rickshaw) was invented by one of these enterprising Yankee preachers, considering that Japan had a shortage of horses.)

Be that as it may, the kingdom of Korea was extremely hostile towards foreigners and the Christian faith. Outsiders were not tolerated in the country, and beliefs outside the scope of Buddhism, the native shamanism, and the official Confucian socio-political orthodoxy were savagely persecuted. This paralleled similar hostility, combined with persecution and massacres, in China (1890s-1900), Japan (persecution and closure of country, 17th cent.), and Vietnam (mass martyrdom of Catholics during the early 19th cent.). Their rulers wanted to avoid a repeat of how the Portuguese humiliated the Sultan of Malacca, the Dutch and Spanish taking insular SE Asia, and Britain ultimately gulping up India. They were convinced by history that first come the merchants with their wares and the preachers with their religion, and after that the soldiers and cannon will finish the job, with their empires toppled or beholden to kings, queens, and a pope far away.

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Old 30th June 2021, 07:30 PM   #17
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Hi,
Some images of a Korean sword found online. The scabbard decoration appears similar to the sword in question.
Regards,
Norman.
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Old 19th July 2021, 04:22 PM   #18
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There is an old thread about a Japanese sword with an old Dutch VOC blade.

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showth...ies+Company%29

Regards.
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