Japanese sword has historic date

Phil Mires at Ewbank auctioneers examines the polish of the Japanese sword dated 1944. Estimate £300-£500A poignant and rare Japanese sword is one of the highlight lots for sale in Surrey auctioneers Ewbank’s Asian Art sale on July 11. 

James Hammond, newly-appointed resident Asian art specialist at Ewbank’s, explains, “Occasionally an object arrives at an auction house which, although not immensely valuable, offers some real insight into a particular moment of art or political history. A Japanese sword, offered for sale on July 11, emphasises this point well. It is a long blade, known by the Japanese term Katana, but significantly it carries a date: 1944.”
He continues, “Of course, this was the year of The D-Day Landings, The Battle of The Bulge, and the death of Glenn Miller, but for the Imperial Japanese forces in the Pacific Theatre, it was also a year of critical loss and defeat in a number of theatres throughout Burma, the Philippines and Biak Island off New Guinea.”

Hammond and the team of experts at Ewbank’s, consider then, that perhaps the most surprising story of this blade therefore, is that it came to be made at all. 

 A decline in the industrial production of armaments was exacerbated by the loss of four Imperial Navy aircraft carriers and three battleships at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October, 1944, an engagement that effectively ended all of Japan’s naval strategy. 
 
“Swords, however, somehow managed to maintain a level of manufacture though, possibly as a result of the highly organised forging, assembly and distribution process. 

“Similar blades are even known with a February 1945 date, but again this was also a month of severe military reverse, witnessing both the invasion of Iwo Jima Island by the US Marine Corps, and the crossing of the Irrawaddy River in Burma by British Forces,” said Hammond.

It is the missions of Japan’s Special Attack Units, organised by Vice-Admiral Onishi Takijiro, that are the most well known operations of 1944. From the October  27, 1944 to January 6, 1945, these Kamikaze attacks were intended to halt the progress of Allied Forces in the Pacific, in just the same way that the Kamikaze Divine Wind had stopped Kublai Khan’s attempted invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281. The Kamikaze were unsuccessful, but were a measure of the desperation and uncertainty that characterised Japan at this moment.

 With a pre-sale estimate of between £300 and £500, the blade appears in its original regulation mounts with its scabbard and fittings extant. It was probably one of many blades that were laid down during the surrender ceremonies that took place right across Asia, from Thaton in Burma to Saigon in Indo-China, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaya, during 1945.

Alongside the sword is a wide variety of art and ceramics in the sale, including both those for Chinese taste, bearing the marks of Qing Emperors, and those for European taste comprising the teapots, tea caddies and tea bowls. 

One particular lot, of note includes three of the saleroom catalogues for two of the most famous and celebrated collections of the 20th century, from Mrs Alfred Clark and E.T.Chow, which have been valued at between £50 and £80. 

Other pieces of note include a Chinese export painting of a Manchu narrative scene which has been valued at between £1,500 and £2,000; a Tibetan Phurbu for Tantric Devotion estimated between £50 and £80; and two Chinese export armorial plates with a guide price of £100 to £150 for the pair. 
A Chinese export painting of a Manchu narrative scene which has been valued at between £1,500 and £2,000
 
Among the sculptural pieces on sale are a Himalayan gilt alloy figure of Tara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, valued at between £1,500 and £2,000; and a Chinese wood sculpture of the Buddhist Deity, Guanyin with a guide of between £200 and £300.

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