Item: cc1252

Korean sword. Joseon Dynasty Korean Royal Bodyguard’s Sword - nokchiljang wungeom Circa 19th C.



    Overall length: 71 cm

    Blade length: 52 cm

    Weight: 1lb 2.3oz

    This sword is a distinct example in the collection of Korean arms and armor on offer in this year’s exhibition. With a form of decoration rarely seen in unison and en-suite on Korean arms and armor, matched only by the decoration on the Joseon royal quiver and bow case set, or dong-gae (Cat. Nr. 5), the Korean shakudo (traditionally called o-dang decoration), quality, and condition make this an important object of Korean arms.

    n overall excellent condition, the blade with some dark spots but retaining its original edge and geometry with no subsequent sharpening or loss of contour. The fittings and lacquer on the scabbard remain in remarkable original condition with only slight losses to surface decoration. The blade with a two-third length fuller on each side, identical to other known nokjichilang wungeom swords (one in the Kyung-In Museum of Fine Art, South Korea, one in a private collection in South Korea (sold by us), and the other in a private collection in the United States), and another in the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig. Distinctly, this sword features an idiosyncratic Korean push pin system for securing the scabbard to the handle with a latch that moves vertically into the scabbard from the blade, as opposed to most other systems of this type, which are situated horizontally to the blade (see Macao Museum of Art 2007, Cat Nr. 120 for an identical mounting system on a byeolungeom or King’s Body Guard sword from the Korea University Museum collection). The handle is covered with a green wrapped cloth, over a red felt or velvet, of similar color and type to that found on royal Korean armor and costumes and likely indicating the rank of the bearer of the sword, similar to the handle on an example in the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig. The scabbard is black lacquered entirely with Korean o-dang fittings and retains the original en-suite decorated belt hanger of typical Korean form.

    The fittings of this sword, ostensibly a sword of one of the royal bodyguards, are idiosyncratic in decoration and materials composition. That Korean shakudo work is almost never seen and, to our knowledge, the only known examples are found on the decoration of royal bow cases and quivers indicate the royal origins for this sword (see Metropolitan Museum Acc. Nr. 36.25.2576a, b for an example from the George Cameron Stone collection; also published Stone (1934) pg 136, Fig. 174. 1 and Fig 174.2 and the University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology Grayson Archery Collection Acc. Nr. MAC 1991-0871; also published in Grayson, French, and O’Brien (2007) pgs. 31-32).

    Korean o-dang, known as shakudo in Japan or blackened bronze elsewhere (Giumlia and Mayer 2013), is lesser known than Japanese workmanship but is documented in several sources as a traditional, though under-utilized form of Korean decorative metalwork. The dark brown to black metal seen on the fittings of this sword is an alloy of copper and gold, named o-dang in Korean. It is also referred to by many other names, including ‘red copper,’ ‘black gold,’ and ‘crow’s gold,’ the latter term due to the similarity of the classic blue-black color to crow’s feathers. However, with different ratios of gold to copper, a range of colors can be achieved through patination. The blue-black color is a result of 3-5% gold, brown to black colors are a product of 0.25-3% gold, and ‘purple gold’ has a gold content of over 10% (Oguchi 1983: 125 and O’Dubhghaill Jones 2009: 290). The fittings on this sword, with a distinct reddish brown, are likely in the 2% range.

    The decoration of the fittings features multiple motifs found on Korean decorative objects of the Joseon era including the gold decorated bats on the inside of the crossguard. Bats being a homophone in Chinese, where the character for bat is pronounced “fu,” the same pronunciation as another common character meaning good fortune (Moes 1983). On the obverse of the guard is a gold decorated crane. Cranes are companions and messengers of Taoist immortals, who ride to and from Pong Nae, the Island of the Immortals in the Eastern Sea, on the backs of flying cranes. The crane was also associated with magical powers and by the age of six hundred, could subsist on water alone (Moes 1983). Finally, and most distinctly, the chape of the sword features the symbolic swastika or the manja, as it is called in Korean. A symbol long used in Eastern, European, and South Asian cultures, long before its odious association with Nazi Germany, the swastika can be found as a decorative motif on many Korean objects though is seldom found on Korean arms (see Macao Museum of Art (2007) Cat. Nr. 124, Nr. 126, and Nr. 128 from the Korea University Museum, Korea Army Museum, and the National Palace Museum of Korea respectively). The word itself for swastika, “Man”, also in Korean Hangul script represents the swastika sign. Furthermore, as a homonym of the character in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese for “10,000,” the swastika also has connotations of long life in Buddhism. It is used to signify trust, to show that nothing is stationary, or that everything is impermanent (Quarrington 2012).


    Private French collection


    Craddock, P., Giumlia-Mair, A. (2013) Hsmn-Km, Corinthian bronze, Shakudo: black patinated bronze in the ancient world, in Metal Plating and Patination: Cultural, technical and historical developments

    Grayson, C., French, M., and O’Brien, M.J. (2007). Traditional Archery from Six Continents: The Charles E. Grayson Collection. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press

    Macao Museum of Art. (2007). History of Steel in Eastern Asia–A View on the Development of Weaponry. Macao P.R.C

    Moes, R. (1983) Auspicious Spirits: Korean folks paintings and related objects. International Exhibitions Foundations. New York

    O’Dubhghaill, Coilin and Jones, A. Hywel, (2009), ‘Japanese irogane alloys and patination – a study of production and application’, in Proceedings of the twenty-third Santa Fe symposium on jewellery manufacturing technology, Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 2009, Met-Chem Research, pp 289-324.

    Oguchi, Hachiro, (1983), ‘Japanese Shakudo: Its history, properties and production from gold-containing alloys’, Gold Bulletin 16 (4):125-132

    Quarrington, D. (2012). The Manja (or the Swastika) .

    Stone, G. C. (1934). A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times, Together with Some Closely Related Subject. The Southworth Press, Portland, Maine