Sanmai tsuba are constructed of three sandwiched plates; a top and bottom plate of shaduko, shibuichi or nigurome with a center core normally of yamagane (copper). They are bound by a fukurin (rim) which holds the three plates together. This construction can be seen on the interior of the nakago-and or hitsu-ana (if any). The plate decoration is done by a repousse technique, working the design from the back of the plate, sometimes hammered into a pattern mold. Some sanmai tsuba will have the exact same design on both sides (the same plate design being used on the front and back); others will have different designs on each side of the tsuba. The plates are normally of floral, scenic, dragons or mon design. Some sanmai tsuba have Goto style designs. Commonly the plates will have some type of gold wash on areas of the design.

The dating and attribution of this type of tsuba has been a subject of some debate among collectors. Some believe these tsuba are a type of tachi-kanaguchi tsuba (tsuba done by makers of tachi fittings). Others feel they are ko-kinko (early soft metal) tsuba. They have also been attributed as ko-Mino (early Mino School) tsuba. Still other scholars feel they are a type of shiiremono (mass produced) tsuba. Sanmai tsuba have had attributed dates from the Momoyama period to late Edo period.

While there is doubtless a wide variety in the quality of sanmai tsuba, they have received origami from the NBTHK, NTHK and NTB generally attributing them to either ko-kinko or ko-Mino and dating Momoyama to early Edo periods. However, this should not be taken to mean that all sanmai tsuba are of this age; some are most certainly late Edo shiiremono. Each tsuba must be judged individually based on the quality of the plate, core and workmanship. Care must be taken with sanmai tsuba as the plates are relatively soft and the designs easily crushed.


Foliage and Ho Bird

Samurai and Banners

Mons and Foliage

Melons and Vines

Dragon in Waves

Grape Vines

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