January Treasure of the Month


January Treasure of the Month

Handachi , Japan, the blade possibly early Muromachi period

Of the small number of Japanese weapons in the Wallace Collection, this sword is the only one to date from before the nineteenth century. Although Sir Richard Wallace would have acquired it in an assembled state, today it is displayed in the traditional Japanese manner, with the blade dismounted so that all parts can be seen at the same time.

Japanese sword and guard with blade removed

A unique feature of the Japanese sword is that the blade is designed to be removable from the hilt. The blade is by far the most important element of this sword. It is possibly as early as the fourteenth century, and of a high quality.

When new, it was significantly longer, and belonged to a tachi or longsword. Somewhat later in its history it was shortened (ō-suriage), by cutting off the old tang (the part of the blade covered by the grip) and reforging a new tang into what was once the base of the visible blade. Conversion into a form better suited to combat at a closer range like a katana significantly extended the working lifetime of this blade. Unlike the others in this collection, this handachi or ‘half tachi’ is a fighting weapon with a long history.

The form of the blade, along with its very tight ‘wood grain’ pattern, indicates that it was probably made in either Yamashiro or Yamato in central Honshu, the largest island in the Japanese archipelago.