Late Qing curio saber | Mandarin Mansion

Late Qing curio saber

Sabers like these are not uncommon on today's antique arms market. The common denominator is a rather short, and fairly straight blade, usually with double fullers. They are usually mounted in brass fittings of the round style, but the angular styles are also encountered. Their blades are often of low quality and not hardened for actual use. Some have cord wrapped handles, others come with a ray-skin covered handle with a piece of brass spirally wrapped around it. Numerous small straightswords, single or double, of similar quality, are also encountered.

All are short enough to fit in the steamer trunks of the day. This has led me and Philip Tom to believe that for the most part they were probably made for the curio trade of the late 19th century onwards, catering mostly to foreign visitors that were looking for exotic items to bring back home. Think of foreign diplomats, merchants, military officers. There is nothing wrong with this per sé, it is still a legitimate historical item relating to the arms of the Qing.

Because they are actually antique, and in the style of the 18th century, they are often sold as something they are not: Actual sabers dating from the heydays of Qing sword making under the Qianlong emperor. Often misrepresented as such by dealers, auctioneers and museums, willingly or by honest mistake, such pieces have lead many a collector into paying too much for them. It doesn't help that even the Royal Armories in Leeds has one mislabelled as "Qianlong era saber" subsequently published in Osprey's Late Imperial Chinese Armies 1520-1840, and other publications. Actual 18th century Chinese sabers with such decorative fittings are very rare and highly sought after as they often have excellently crafted blades to match. Few museums own good examples.

For the reasons above, I usually don't touch sabers from this genre. However, exceptions can be made, and I made one with this piece. I will explain why below.
First some specs:

Overall length in scabbard: 77.5 cm / 30.5 inch
Saber length: 64.6 cm / 25.4 inch
Blade length: 44.3 cm / 17.4 inch
Thickness: forte 5 mm, middle 4.5 mm
Blade width: widest part 35 mm
Weight without scabbard: 442 grams

The saber presented here is of high quality for the genre, and in near-perfect condition. The blade -still probably not made for actual use- does show signs of laminated steel.

The best thing about it is the complete and original set of fittings in the round style, or yuanshi. These sets of fittings were not always solely made for the curio trade, you see identical ones on actual fighting sabers. They are decorated with archaic designs of kui dragons that were originally encountered on archaic Chinese bronze vessels of long past dynasties. The motifs were again popularized under the Qianlong emperor who was an avid collector of these bronzes and a diligent student of ancient Chinese history.

The saber comes with original scabbard covered with polished green ray-skin. The ray skin is in near perfect condition, see pictures. It also retains its original handle wrap, with some losses but for the most part still quite decent.

Although not an actual fighting saber, it is a well-made antique item with beautiful set of fittings, of rather good workmanship for the period. Expect to pay three times as much for an actual fighting Qing saber in fittings of a similar quality and with a scabbard of similar quality and condition.


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