This page shows some of the swordguards or tsuba from the McLean Collection. Originally simple in form and design these sword accessories developed over time into miniature examples of the metalworkers art.
In June 1905 the Japan Society held a major exhibition in London on 'The Arms and Armour of Old Japan'. The exhibition was one of the largest on that subject to have been seen at that time. Experts from Europe and Japan contributed to the exhibition catalogue and it became an early landmark in the wider dispersal of knowledge on Japanese arms. The catalogue entry on tsuba reamins one of the best introductions to the subject.
'Although there is considerable range of shape amongst tsuba, the prevalent form in a general collection will be found to be a short ellipse; but many specimens, especially those of an early date, present an exactly circular outline. The remaining shapes, with a few exceptions to be presently noted, may be described as rounded oblong, barrel shaped, square, octagonal, diamond shaped, four-lobed (Mokko), and four-cusped (Aoi). There exist also a number of guards the outlines of which have been determined by the form of their decorative elements - such as a group of fans, a pair of butterflies or a branch of a flowering tree. A few guards occur having a pentagonal, hexagonal or heptagonal outline. A more or less irregular or undulatory edge is not uncommon. Sometimes the edge is beaded, pierced or ornamented with reliefs.'
From 'Arms and Armour of Old Japan' by Professor A.H. Church 1905.