Blade and Mounting for a Dagger (Tantō)

Swordsmith: Blade inscribed by Uda Kunimitsu (Japanese, active early–mid-14th century)

Date: blade, dated November, 1333; mounting, 19th century

Culture: Japanese

Medium: Steel, silver, copper, gold, copper-gold alloy (shakudō), rayskin, shark skin, wood

Dimensions: L. 17 1/8 in. (44.8 cm); L. of blade 16 1/8 in. (40.9 cm)

Classification: Daggers

Credit Line: Gift of Peter H. B. Frelinghuysen, 1998

Accession Number: 1998.127.2

Description

Uda Kunimitsu lived in Uda in Yamato (present-day Nara Prefecture) and later moved to Ecchu (present-day Toyama Prefecture). He is recorded as working in the early to mid fourteenth century. There were three generations of Kunimitsu swordsmiths who were active from the early fourteenth century to the mid-fifteenth century, spanning the late Kamakura period to the mid Muromachi period. Uda Kunimitsu was the first generation swordsmith of the family and founder of the Uda School. Although there are a small number of surviving swords signed by Uda Kunimitsu, until the authentication of the inscription on this tanto in 1998 there were no known works by him that were both signed and dated. This tanto, therefore, provides an important foundation for the study of the entire Uda School.

The shape of the tanto has a very slight curvature, with proportions that are wider and somewhat larger than a typical tanto of the early 14th century, but which became more common later in the century. The surface texture of this blade combines the appearance of a wood grain with a straight grain. The edge is tempered with a narrow straight line bordered by a double line, characteristics that show the influence of the Yamato School of swordsmiths.

The unsigned mountings, which were made for this tanto in the 19th century, are subtle and elegant. The ribbed scabbard is covered in black lacquered sharkskin. The metal fittings on the hilt and the scabbard are made of silver and are beautifully chiseled with billowing waves. These are completed by the menuki (grip buttons), which are gilt copper, and the tsuba (sword guard), which is shakudo (a copper and gold alloy patinated bluish black) inlaid with gold.

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