17 Apr 2013

Chinese Swords

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2,000-year-old 100-layer sword, reputed to have been owed by Lui Bang (fl. circa 200 B.C.) first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, found originally covered with blood rust. The pattern shown in the bottom photo is known as leopard spots.

Collectors Weekly visits swordmaker Francis Boyd, learns the difference between Damascus layered and wootz steel, and gets to see a sword gifted in China by Marco Polo (or a close relative).

When I got this sword, it was completely covered in blood rust.” Sword maker Francis Boyd is showing me yet another weapon pulled from yet another safe in the heavily fortified workshop behind his northern California home.

“You can tell it’s blood,” he says matter-of-factly, “because ordinary rust turns the grinding water brown. If it’s blood rust it bleeds, it looks like blood in the water. Even 2,000 years old, it bleeds. And it smells like a steak cooking, like cooked meat. I’ve encountered this before with Japanese swords from World War II. If there’s blood on the sword and you start polishing it, the sword bleeds. It comes with the territory.”

Blood rust: I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it would turn water red, but the steak comment is kind of creeping me out, as is the growing realization that if these swords could talk, I couldn’t stomach half the tales they’d have to tell.

Read the whole thing.

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