A Sawasa-Hilted Small-Sword and Scabbard, c. 1730 - 40

2745 2

Item ref: 2745

  • Japan or Dutch Far Eastern colonies
  • Sawasa alloy, gilding, gold wire, wood, leather, steel
  • 97.5 cm / 37.4 in


Dietrich Stürken Collection

Under the specific sanction of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate the Dutch remained the sole westerners permitted to trade with Japan after the closure policy of 1638. By 1641 the Dutch East India Company had established its factory for the production of exotic and luxurious export goods on the former Portuguese island of Dejima, in Nagasaki harbour. 

Sword hilts were a speciality of the Dejima factory and were uniformly characterised by the use of the Japanese metal alloy sawasa, and decorated in the manner of Japanese shakudo ware. In the following century the areas of Dutch sawasa ware production expanded throughout the Dutch Far East.

The earliest recorded sawasa sword hilt is that of a hanger presented to Johann van Leenen (1643-1721) in 1700 by the Dutch East India Company, today in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (No. NG-1978-99).

Another sword of a similar type hilted is listed in the inventory of the Dresden Electoral Armouries in 1728, said to have entered the armouries in 1704.

Sawasa was composed primarily of copper, with small quantities of silver, gold and arsenic. The resulting material lent itself to the casting of small objects and their fine decoration through chiselling and chasing.

The decoration was made all the more exotic by the attractive blue/black gloss of their lacquer, highlighted against brilliant gilding, a technique unique to Japan and highly fashionable in continental Europe throughout the 18th century.