East Asia, Japan, late Edo Period, ca. early to mid-19th century CE, signed (likely Yukimitsu - see more below). A beautiful forged-iron Kaku Gata tsuba, a square-shaped hand guard with rounded corners traditionally employed on Japanese swords. The obverse side of the tsuba displays a nocturnal scene with a pair of bamboo stalks growing upwards towards a cloud-shrouded crescent moon, and the reverse depicts a trio of minimalist birds in flight above uneven terrain, all in inlaid gold. The exterior rim displays a wispy pattern of curvilinear motifs, and the edge is lined with gold as well. The central blade opening (Nakago-ana) is flanked by a pair of decorative holes, one filled and with a small protrusion on one side (Kogai Hitsu-ana) and an open one without a protrusion (Hozuka Hitsu-ana). Though the old-style characters are somewhat difficult to translate, a small rectangular panel near the central opening bears a signature that likely reads "Yukimitsu". Size: 2.375" W x 2.7" H (6 cm x 6.9 cm).
A tsuba is the hand guard of a traditional Japanese sword, usually a katana or tachi. Its primary purposes are to balance the sword, prevent one's hand from sliding down the blade and, as a last resort, as a block against an opponent's thrust or slash. However, as time and skills developed, the tsuba evolved into an artistic item and symbol representing wealth, prestige, or skills as a swordsman. Early tsuba, known as neri tsuba, were made of leather encased in an iron or wooden frame which was occasionally lacquered for strength and stability.
Provenance: ex-private Rochester, Michigan, USA collection
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Surface wear and minor abrasions commensurate with age, light fading to signature, light patina to some gold components, and very minor nicks around blade opening, otherwise intact and excellent. Light earthen deposits and nice, even oxidation to exposed iron areas.