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Information on an Old Sword

by Jay

Symbols on the old sword blade

Symbols on the old sword blade

I have an antique Chinese Jian. I have been told it dates to the Qing Dynasty. My question is this: There are, on one side of the blade, four Chinese symbols. I would appreciate it if anyone could translate them. I have tried the Detroit Institute of Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art and a couple of private galleries (and Chinese friends). So far, no luck. Anyone there who might know?

I'm attaching photos of the symbols in question. Any assistance is greatly appreciated.

In regards to this particular sword, I've been told that, "The 13.5 inch blade, forwards from the guard, is what is left of a 29 or 30 inch full-length jian blade," and that "this is a broken sword with a shortened scabbard. You can see where the central groove runs right to the tip of the blade. The scabbard fittings are also a dead giveaway. Again, from the mouth of the scabbard forwards, to where the end fitting is awkwardly attached, is original but incomplete." I was told also that, "it broke, most likely a flaw in the forging process, as these usually had sanmai (3-plate) constructed blades and possessed quite a hard edge to them." Upon shortening, the tip was also obviously reshaped apprpriately.

This has been in my family for at least 65 years and was obviously old when I was a child in the 1950s.


I put this on a forum where there are a number of experts in old Chinese swords. Here is the information we have come up with so far. This topic is open for further input from knowledgeable readers of the Chinese Swords Guide.

Glenn said: "The characters are an interesting mish-mash of styles:

The 1st seems to be chi(4) "imperial order" in straight kaishu (looked up online)

The 2nd, long one wrapped in "gate" I have no idea.

The 3rd and 4th are pretty surely "lung chuan" "dragon spring" the sword- making place. Lung is in grass style, chuan a sort of seal-style inspired thing... only thing about the last one "chuan" that bothers me is the bottom part is more "tree" than "water" which is what the modern character is."

More information on the sword

The earliest it could be is late 19th century. It's more likely early 20th century. These swords were made in large numbers around the turn of the century, likely for the tourist trade.

It has lost quite a lot of length. Peter Dekker says:"From the stars you can re-calculate its original length, if you have at least two on the blade. It goes as follows:

There were once seven brass stars.
They are usually evenly spaced from one another.
The space between guard and first star is always the same as that between the last star and tip.

These were made in pretty large numbers at around the turn of the century so it is at best late 19th and more probably early 20th century. These are almost always full-length jian and looking at the fuller running off the tip and the awkward way the tip is shaped we can assume that it must have lost quite some length. Most have markings that say "longquan" and often words such as "dragon" "phoenix" or "double edged sword" engraved in them along with a depiction of a dragon on the other side.

They often come with either a brownish-red lacquered scabbard or one of these black ones with wire wrapping. Steel is pretty soft in all cases, and the blades often rather thin and wobbly. They were definitely not made for the fight. Perhaps this one was nevertheless used as such, leading to its current shortened state. The blades I've had were all forge folded, with inserted hardened edges that could be made visible with some acid, but lacked hardening so they looked the deal but weren't. Blade and fitting configuration is generally the same for all of them, with a single fuller running along the center and inscriptions on the forte which are done with small, circular stamps. Most have brass stars inlaid in the blade, a few have not."

There was consensus among the sword collectors that it wasn't a blade made for battle and of the approximate age.

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