Three Rare Korean Sabers

Three Rare Korean Sabers

Reprinted from "Sword & Brush" exhibiton catalog


Blade length 27 1/2 in.
19th century

The heavy blade of qiangang construction, with a marked taper, deep fullers, and short backedge, fitted with a Japanese-inspired collar at forte, mounted with a short tapering grip whose design shows Japanese influence. The octagonal guard as well as all other fittings of iron, decorated with encrusted silver designs. The scabbard of Chinese form, covered with dyed and polished shagreen.

This type of weapon was intended for combat use by a military officer. In general, Korean sabers follow Japanese prototypes whereas the straight swords are very Chinese in appearance. This saber is unusual in that it combines elements from both cultures. Of particular interest is the pommel. Although generally similar to Chinese saber pommels, this specimen’s proportions and shape are also reminiscent of those on the Central Asian and Siberian sabers carried by Mongol forces in the 13th-14th centuries.


Blade length: 25 5/8 in.
Overall length: 32 in.
19th cent.

Of essentially Japanese inspiration, the single-edged blade of shinogizukuri cross-section, with koshizori curvature (strongest near the guard, straightening out towards point), of stout proportions and showing clear evidence of differential heat treating and "inserted steel" (qiangang in Chinese) lamellar structure (the surface lightly cleaned, light polishing to an area on the right side to bring out details of the heat treat, several areas of deep corrosion near the forte, a few tiny nicks on the edge). On the right side of the blade is a chiselled inscription of 8 Chinese characters, identifying this saber as being issued to the honor troop of the Royal Guard.

The mounts of brass (with the exception of an iron guard), comprising a small habaki at the forte of the blade, a serrated washer fronting the guard, the ferrule and pommel on the grip, and the scabbard fittings (the chape missing). The wooden grip wrapped with leather in a manner similar to the Japanese, but without the use of menuki. On this weapon, the tang of the blade goes entirely through the grip, being peened over the pommel in the Chinese style. The scabbardâs suspension system also follows the Chinese system of using two bands holding a perforated dorsal bar. The scabbard covered in black-lacquered leather (buckled, with some minor losses, in center section).

Korean arms are seldom seen in museums or encountered on the market. It is remarkable to find one with an association with the elite military units which guarded the palace at Seoul. The countryâs long, self-imposed isolation meant that few of its weapons were taken abroad, and most surviving specimens were confiscated and destroyed during the disastrous 35-year colonial occupation by Japan. This specimen is remarkably similar to one published by J. L. Boots, in "Korean Weapons and Armor", Transactions of the Korea Branch, Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXIV, Dec. 1934, Pt. II, seen in plate 12, second from the right.


Blade length: 25 in
Overall length: 32 in.
Mid÷late 19th cent.

The heavy single-edged blade of Japanese style, of shinogizukuri cross-section, iori-mune (peaked dorsal spine), with slight torii-zori curvature, no markings or inscriptions, of "inserted steel" (jakan / qiangang) lamellar construction, differentially heat-treated with a pronounced, billowy crystalline zone (hamon) along the edge (surface lightly cleaned, minor speckles of patina and two areas of grain openings in the lamination, the hamon visible on both sides, one portion of left side partially polished to bring out metallurgical details). The blade mounted in its hilt according to the Japanese fashion, with a "blind" tang secured by a transverse peg, and a brass habaki or collar at the forte. The octagonal guard of iron, with blackened finish, with the hilt fitted with simple brass ferrule and pommel. The grip lacquered black over a coarse cloth ground, and wrapped with braided leather strips in the Japanese fashion, albeit without the use of menuki.

The scabbard mounts of plain brass, the suspension fittings being a bar-and-bands system of Chinese type. The wooden scabbard body covered with coarse cloth layered over with black lacquer (considerable wear >from use and handling, the lacquer about 60% intact, a small hole on one side of scabbard).

Korean swords are very scarce, since most surviving examples were confiscated and destroyed during the Japanese colonial occupation , 1910-45. This is a typical example issued to enlisted ranks in the army of the late Yi Dynasty (r. 1391-1910), and is practically identical to the example in plate 12, third from the right, in J. L. Bootsâ "Korean Weapons and Armor", in Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXIV, Dec. 1934, pt. II.

Comments are closed.