Copper bladed Vietnamese Kiem

A ceremonial 'kiem' with copper blade, silver fittings and mother of pearl inlayed hilt and scabbard. Vietnam, Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945)

Details of this item

Price

-

Status

Reserved

Region

South East Asia (Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines)
(Tonkin, Vietnam, Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945))

Period

19th century

Materials

Silver, Copper, Wood, Mother of pearl

Price

Reserved

Status

Reserved

Region

South East Asia (Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines)

(Tonkin, Vietnam, Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945))

Period

19th century

Materials

Silver, Copper, Wood, Mother of pearl

Description

An iconic sword among Vietnamese arms is the ‘Kiem’ straight sword. Stylistically based on the Chinese ‘Jian’ straight sword, the Kiem seems to be generally used for ceremonial purpose and implication of elite rank among scholars and government officials. These sword tend to be made very lavishly with precious materials such as rosewood, ivory, horn, repoussé silver and mother of pearl. The blades are often quite common, functional, but not made for battle. Kiem swords are straight, often with a large silver hilt with two pronouncing quillons functioning as a guard. The hilts are long stretched and decorated with a silver pommel. The hilts are commonly made of elephant molar tooth, ivory, wood or as on this example, domesticated buffalo horn.

During the Nguyen Dynasty, dignitaries and scholars were accompanied by personal bodyguards and personnel, who carried ‘Guom’ and ‘Kiem’ swords. A typical feature is the very fine craftsmanship of silver which is often attributed to the workshops of Tonkin. Variably from standard floral motifs and foliage to elaborately chiseled flowers, animals and motifs as we see here.

The hilt:
Consisting of a fine silver guard, wooden inlayed hilt and silver pommel which is riveted to the blade. The guard shows a very fine repoussé scene of dragons and clouds. The wooden hilt is straight, slightly oval shaped and decorated with a fine mother of pearl inlay depicting a Jilin and turtle, surrounded in foliage on both sides. The pommel is decorated with frontal dragons face.

The blade:
Simple, and made of thick copper. Highly unusual and showing the pure ceremonial role of the sword. De blade is straight, tapering towards the tip and blunt on all edges. The forte is placed in a silver ‘tonkou’ ferrule and engraved with the characters ‘北海’ which seems to translate as ‘the North Sea’ a remarkable phrase which does not seem to be found in any our sources yet.

The scabbard:
Lavishly decorated with silver fittings holding two slabs of wood which are inlayed with a very fine arabesque scenery of phoenix, dragons and leaves. The locket depicts a turtle surrounded by vines. The mid section shows two scenes; a ‘Qilin’ and an emerging phoenix. The chape shows a fine large stretched out dragon surrounded by blossoms.

Copper bladed Vietnamese Kiem

Condition

Very good condition, the hilt was once repaired near the pommel. A professional rivet was applied again to discover any damages, which were not seen. The mother of pearl is missing some parts overal.

Dimensions

Hilt length: 23.8cm

Blade length: 64cm

Blade spine thickness: 3mm

Scabbard: 76.6cm

Total length: 99.8cm

Weight

1333g.

Comparable items

– Metropolitan Museum of Arts New York, acc.nr. 36.25.1451a, b

Provenance

A French collection

Literature