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Exceptionally Rare Chinese Wootz Bintie Steel Jian Sword, mid-19th Century

( ID: cs1226 )

An exceptionally rare Chinese sword with a true Chinese forged wootz blade, circa mid-19th C.

Dating to the early to mid-19th century in outward appearance this example is fitted with fine quality jian fittings of the late 18th-mid-19th c.  The shagreen remains in fine condition with minor crazing due to timber shrinkage underneath and the boxwood grip is also in fine condition, with decorative lines running the length to create a better grip when grasped in hand.  The brass hardware has a fine patina, uncleaned, and the fitting are precise and of good quality design and manufacture include the crossguard with a well formed shi mask.

The blade is a wonder to be found in Chinese swords.  What appears on the surface to be a fine jian blade of elegant proportions and geometry, with a very well formed straight medial ridge, and fire hardened edges, on closer examination is forged of Indian or Persian wootz or watered steel.

Wootz in China, otherwise known as bintie has a long history.  The term “bintie” firstly appeared in historical documents of the Beiwei Dynasty (386 AD - 534 AD), and was mentioned in official history books such as Wei Shu, Zhou Shu, Bei Shi and Sui Shu many times. According to the records, in this period (4th-7th Century AD), Bintie was a special product of Persia, and ingots of this iron were frequently sent by Persian kings to Chinese Emperors as rare presents (Cox 2009).  In the 18th C. wootz swords were given as gifts not only by tributary tribes in Western China who themselves likely obtained either trade blade or ingots to be forged into their customary styles, but also as gifts from the Mughal Empire, which is most known through the Qianlong royal collection of jade hilts, now mounted on swords and daggers in the Palace collection.  That so few Chinese wootz blade mounted swords have survived is a testament to the fact that these blades were likely eventually undervalued and polished and since the history of wootz in China is obscure and long forgotten blades with other types of forging began to be valued more. 

Judging by the exceptional quality of the wootz pattern, which is remarkably consistent underneath the higher temperature Chinese forging method, the ingot used in this blade was Persian or Indian wootz.  However, the smithing was almost certainly done by a Chinese smith who knew exactly what kind of blade he wanted to fashion; a classic Jian blade of the late 18th-19th C. inlaid with the seven stars in copper.  Most importantly and indicating Chinese smithing technique the blade was made through high heat forging typical to Chinese blade smithing and added the hardened edge on both sides, which can be seen on other jian sold by us here and here and here .The high heat makes the wootz pattern appear as if underneath the "skin" of the blade and visible through angling in light.  See the photos for the wootz pattern.  The blade also has a few small areas of pitting near the edge but is otherwise in excellent condition.

Overall, this is truly an important blade and the only example we've encountered with a wootz blade of this level of quality made in China.  

32.6" in length. Blade is 23.5" in length and 1 3/8” wide and retaining a thick cross-section and razor sharp edge.

Reference: Lox, William (2009) “Bintie: The Wootz Steel in Ancient China”. Indian Journal of History of Science, 44.3 

Price on Request.

 

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