Korean straight sword - Price on request
Period: Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), Mid 19th century
Materials: Steel, Iron, Paktong, Copper, Wood, Lacquer
The Korean word for sword is ‘Geom’ (검) and the Koreans use a wide variety of names given to different types of swords. The straight swords are named after their auspicious period of manufacture, taking into account certain annual periods such as the lunar calendar. Others are named after their shape or other origin of manufacture. There are little sources when it comes to Korean swords, they are generally a mixture between Chinese and Japanese swords with characteristics of both cultures, interpreted in their own way. The quality of the blades, especially in the late Joseon period seem to be of significantly lower quality and function more a status symbol then being actually functional in battle. Many Korean swords, especially the ‘Sain-Geom’ or ‘Sain-Gum’ were made to ward off evil spirits and have there genesis as far back as at least the 14th century.
A study of Lee Sung Gon says the following on the invention and auspicious production of the Korean ‘Sain-Geom’:
”Ancient people believed that invisible evil spirits existed in their lives. At that time, it was thought that the ghosts caused unexpected disasters, so they were interested in ‘Byuksa’ and ‘Chama’-some kinds of exorcism-in order to protect themselves from the spirits.
In the Joseon dynasty, exorcising swords called ‘Sain-gum’ were produced under the leadership of the royal family. Originally the purpose of a ordinary sword was to defend oneself or defeat enemies, but they were made to drive the ghost away, not for killing.
Sain-gum was manufactured when four ‘Ins’, that is to say ‘In’-year, ‘In’-month, ‘In’-day, and ‘In’-hour fell on a moment. The moment comes around once in 60 years when the power of ‘yang`’ is about to be strongest. The sword made in this time had the power of yang, and had the power to the ghosts of ‘yin’. Therefore, only having it performed exorcism.
In order to make the exorcising sword there were several taboos and procedures. The Great Bear was inlaid with gold or silver on one edge of the sword, and the name of the sword ‘Sain-gum’ and the song of the Book of Changes and Taoism were inlaid with a seal character. Also, the hilt was decorated with auspicious signs such as an arabesque and a lotus flower. After completing the sword, a religious service was performed with alcohol, fruit, white chickens, and incense and candles on the altar.
The sword was too heavy to be proper for general purposes. After considering all the factors, it is thought that the sword was made for a symbolic purpose as exorcism, not for a killing weapon.”
An uncommon type, straight bladed in style of the Chinese ‘Jian’ and Japanese ‘Ken’. The blade is well forged and double edged ending in a rounded tip. The diamond cross section provides a medial ridge running down the entire blade. A Japanese influenced ‘horimono’ was chiseled in the blade depicting a dragon on side A and a cloud on side B. The blade is of good quality and shows a temper line of hardened steel on the edges. A ‘habaki’ was mounted on the blade to protect the forte.
The hilt is elongated, segmented in ribs and laqcuered black. The fittings are of ‘paktong’ a typical Korean feature and shows a lobed pommel and ferrule. The blade is riveted to the hilt, which is another indicator of Korean arms. The scabbard is made of two wooden slabs which are held together by similar ‘paktong’ fittings. The entire scabbard was fitted in black laqcuer, the originally standard army colour in Korean ranks. On the front, a ‘paktong’ ornament was attached which shows traces of an old suspension or clip on which the suspension cord formerly was attached. The same front shows a varnished dragon in the lacquer in similar style as the chiseled dragon on the blade.
A very rare encounter. The short sword is well balanced and made for slashing, which was preferred among Korean swordsmen. A type of sword which shows a subtile balance between Chinese and Japanese swords.
Condition: Very good condition, slight ware on the lacquer and missing suspension bar on the front fitting. Excellent blade with minor ware. Nicely patinated paktong fittings.
Hilt length: 16cm
Blade length: 42.3cm
Blade spine thickness: 5mm
Scabbard length: 45.2cm
Total length: 61.5cm
Provenance: French private collection
‘A Study of Joseon Sain-gum’ by Lee Sung-Gon
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