This is an excellent Uchigatana Ko Tosho sukashi tsuba that would date, I believe from the early to mid Muromachi period 打刀 古刀匠 透し鐔 室町時代初期-中期. Heavily modulated and rich in tsuchime 槌目, this tsuba displays many of the traits of the early Kamakura period 鎌倉時代 guards in both the Sasano and Kremmers books. While I guess it is possible that it is from this earlier time, I suspect a date of around the mid Muromachi period may be more fitting. The mimi is Kaku mimi koniku 小肉角耳 and there is tekkotsu 鉄骨. The tsuba also features Kata-hitsu shitate 片櫃仕立 (a single hitsu-ana ) for a Kozuka. The iron ji has a dark and lustrous tone, with many black and purple undertones. The mimi, with it’s abundant tekkotsu, looks to be almost finished with Yakite shitate 焼手仕立 as does certain flat points on the ji. I suspect though this is from the many years of ware.
It is widely considered that tsuba of this age were free of any hitsu at the time of their creation, and that any kozuka or kogai hitsu ana seen on very old tsuba are a later additions. While this is most likely true in many cases, there are some that believe, and I am one of them, that there must have been some tsuba with hitsu ana in these earlier times. Kozuka and kogai for example are well documented in the Kamakura period and perhaps even before this time. Surely there must have been some tsuba then that were able to accommodate these accessories. Now I am not saying one way or another if this is original to the guard, just surmising that it may be.
Whilst this tsuba is a little on the small side, it is known that Ko Tosho tsuba were common in a variety of sizes. Sasano wrote that he believes the smaller Ko Tosho guards to be from the Heian and Kamakura periods, and increased in size in the late Kamakura and Nambokucho periods. He also notes that sukashi on the earlier guards was larger and bolder and the later tsuba were smaller and more delicate. A consideration worth mulling over is that after the introduction of the uchigatana, the smaller Ko Tosho tsuba were simply more comfortable to wear in everday situations as well as a seated position, as apposed to the large and bulky 9cm + tsuba.The theme is Kachimushi no Zugura 勝虫の図柄 and finished typically for a Ko Tosho in negative or ‘In’ sukashi (陰透). The sukashi on this work is delicate and masterfully done. The usual style of the tonbo’s face represented with 3 large circles is in this case expressed with 3 very fine entrants that average 1.5mm accross. This may be an indicator of the age of the guard. The wings which consist of two parts on each side, are seperated with a very thin wall of iron.
The use of the dragon fly or Tonbo 蜻蛉 was popular the military men of Japan for at least 700 years. To the samurai, kachimushi were thought of as creatures that never took a step backward, but rather always moved forward, and because of that, were a preferred design and they were often used as a motif on tosogu, maedate (前立 plume or decoration on a jingasa) and on Jinbaori (陣羽織 sleeveless jacket) as well.
With the beautiful iron surface and sensitive cutting of the openwork, this guard has a subdued elegance that is as fine as any.
The dimensions are 7.35cm H x 7.20cm W x 3.3mm at the nakago ana and 3mm at the mimi.
Thank you for reading.