A Dagger, or Tanto, with a black Saya, or Scabbard dated 1805

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Item ref: 3792

  • Japan
  • Steel, wood, lacquer, silk and same (rayskin)
  • 49 cm


Private collection, USA

Signed Suishinshi Masahide with Kao and seal
Dated 'One day in August, Bunka 2' (the equivalent Common Era year 1805)

The blade is of osoraku zukuri form, an unusual type with an extra large point or kissaki, placing the dividing line or yokote at the ecentre of the blade, originated by the sixteenth-century smith Shimada Sukemune 島田助宗, who carved the characters 恐らくon one of his blades of this form which was said to have belonged to the Sengoku general Katagiri Katsumoto (1556–1615). It is carved with the Buddhist bonji (Sanskrit character) kiriiku, for Amida Nyorai and Senju Kannon, and with a horimono of Jurōjin, one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune. It is signed Suishinsei Masahide with kao and koukuin seal, and dated Bunka ni nen hachi gatsu nichi (1805), 水心子正秀, 文化二年八月日.

Suishinshi Masahide is a highly important late Edō smith, known as the founder of the Shinshinto era of sword production and of the school of his own name. He was born in 1750 in Akayuzai 赤湯在 (now Nanyō city, Yamagata), son of a samurai. His name as a child was Sanjirō 三治郎, but his father died young, and he and his mother moved to live with a relative Suzuki Gonjirō 鈴木権次郎 and he was given the name Suzuki Saburō Iehide 鈴木三郎宅英. He studyied sword forging under Shitahara Yoshihide 下原吉英 from the age of 18, first signing blades as Iehide 宅秀 then as Hidekuni 英国. By 1774 he had become a sword maker for the Akimoto family of Yamagata and changed his signature to Kawabe Gihachirō Masahide 川部儀八郎正秀, with an art name of Suishinshi 水心子, ‘lake spirit’. In 1781 he moved to Edō to study the Bizen style under Ishido Korekazu and became an swordsmith for the vassals of Tatebayashi in Hamamachi town in Bushu, Edō (now Nihonbashi, Tokyo), and taught over one humdred pupils, including Taikei Naotane 大慶直胤 and Hosokawa Masayoshi細川正義 who became renowned smiths in their own right. He officially retired in 1818, passing his name to his son Sadahide 貞秀, but continued to sign blades as Amahide 天秀, collaborating with his son. He died on 27 September 1825 at the age of 76. His early career, 1774–1789, is characterised by the Sōshu-den style where while he was inspired by the ancient works by Masamune 正宗and Shizu 志津. In mid-career he mostly worked in the dōran-midare ‘large-wave temper’ style of Tsuda Echizen-no-kami Sukehiro 津田越前守助広 or the wide wavy hamon of Inoue Shinkai 井上真改. Around this time he changed his approach completely and published his reasons for it in Toko Byoron. He observed that swords with a hade (wide and gaudy) style hamon tend to break, so decided to abandon the manufacture of artistic blades and return to the practical excellence of Kamakura period blades that cut well and were durable. 

The hilt is covered in same and bound with black silk braid and has a matching set of fuchi kashira in silver carved with waves highlighted with gold dots. The kozuka is decorated to match, as are the kuchigane and kojiri for the scabbard, which is covered in plain black lacquer.