An exceptionally long presentation Odachi, made in 1869 with Snake Horimono by the great sword smith, Gassan Sadakazu, Edo period (19th century)
Provenance: Bonhams NY Auction lot 1123, 27th Nov. 2014
With a Kanteisho certificate no. 4319 issued by "Fujishiro Matsuo", dated 1995.10.5 attributing the tachi to Gassan Sadakazu.
Gassan Sadakazu was designated as an Imperial Court Artist on Meiji Sanjo nen (1906), making swords for the emperor. He was rated as a Yen 5.5 million smith, the highest rating in Modern Japanese Swordsmiths 1868-1945 by John Scott Slough. His swords are regarded by many experts as of supreme quality, the highest by all.
Sadakazu was skilled at producing swords in the Sosho, Bizen, Ymato and Yamashiro traditions and was a master in horimono.
Sadakazu and his son, Sadakatsu were considered as the greatest sword smiths of modern time and their works were so identical that Sadakazu later life's works were made and signed (daisaku) by the son, Sadakatsu.
Gassan Sadakatsu's son Gassan Sadaichi (also read as Sadakazu II), and his student Takahashi Sadatsugu went on to become "Living National Treasures" in 1971. This designation by the Japanese government is the most prestigious one can receive, as it considers that the essential and highest cultural qualities of Nihonto are embodied in the recipient. was later awarded the title of "National Living Treasure".
(The late Fujishiro Matsuo san was also another Living National Treasure polisher).
All presentation swords were made of the finest quality to be presented to the Imperial household, important person or to Shrine and Temple. These swords were made unsigned for later incision of name and purpose of presentation on one side of the Tang and date of presentation on the other side.
This long tachi was probably made in 1869 (Year Of Snake)by Gassan Sadakazu as a standby sword to meet an urgent need for a presentation sword.
Swords of later period, ordered by the emperor to be presented to important people were actually made and signed by his son as father's and son's work were identical.
The Gensui-to sword that was presented to the King Of England was made and signed by the son.
In 1932, to order a katana blade made by the son, Sadakatsu would cost a princely sum of Yen 2,000 or US1,000. That's equal roughly to USD50,000 in today's money.
Sugata (configuration): honzukuri iorimune chugissaki and koshizori, the wide kasane 1/4in (1.1cm) at the munemachi
Kitae (forging pattern): itame mixed with mokume
Hamon (tempering pattern): gunome midare in nie with ashi, yo, sunagashi and some utsuri
Boshi (tip): hakikake
Horimono (carving): bonji on the omote side and a coiling snake on the ura
Nakago (tang): the extended tang ubu with osujikai file marks and two holes
Habaki (collar): one-piece gold foil
Nagasa (length from tip to beginning of tang): 40 3/4in (103.5cm)
Motohaba (width at start of tempered edge): 1 1/2in (3.8cm)
Sakihaba (width before tip): 7/8in (2.2cm)
In shirasaya (wood storage scabbard)
The horimono of a snake is in fine detail. Gassan Sadakazu was well known for his horimono work too. The blade has subtle Ayasugi hada running on it.
Displayed with the sword is a museum catalogue on Gassan:
In 1982, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston opened an exhibit of the works of the best modern swordsmiths, or "Living National Treasures," of Japan.
To coincide with that opening, they invited Gassan Saidachi who brought his son Sadatoshi along with other student apprentices (who later became full-fledged smiths in their own right) Sadanao Mikami, Sadafusa Kato, and Sadashige Adachi to construct an on-site forge to demonstrate japanese swordmaking.
This 85-page volume documents that event, along with some blades featured in the exhibition and forged at the MFA. It also provides a nice summary of the Gassan School of forging, which originated in the Kamakura Period (1192 - 1333) and in modern times is traced back to the direct family lineage of Gassan Sadayoshi --> Sadakatsu --> Saidaichi --> Sadatoshi. This is one of the most well-known and well-regarded schools of forging in the modern era, and their signature style is exemplified by the Ayasugi hada, that features prominent, undulating waves within the steel grain, revealing their distinctive method of layering different steels in the forging process.
Although Gassan Saidachi has since passed, his son Gassan Sadatoshi achieved Mukansa status in 1982 (in the same year as the MFA exhibit) and is one of the most celebrated smiths living today. Enomoto Sadayoshi (1908-2000), who studied under Gassan Sadakatsu, was another Mukana-ranked smith whose son Enomoto Sadahito is actively forging today.
Exceptional long Tachi were very difficult to produce because their length makes heat treatment in a traditional way more complicated: The longer a blade is, the more difficult (or expensive) it is to heat the whole blade to a homogenous temperature, both for annealing and to reach the hardening temperature. The quenching process then needs a bigger quenching medium because uneven quenching might lead to warping the blade.
The method of polishing is also different. Because of their size, the Tachi were usually hung from the ceiling or placed in a stationary position to be polished, unlike normal swords which are moved over polishing stones.