This is something rarely offered for sale. A tsuba by the first generation Sôheishi Sôten, the founder of the very famous and prolific Kitagawa Sôten school of tsuba making which started in the 18th century. This is only the second tsuba by this maker that I have come across in over 40 years of collecting and dealing in Japanese swords. This particular tsuba is signed with Sôten’s earliest signature, Kitagawa Shûten Sei (喜多川秋典製). The side opposite the signature on the seppadai is inscribed Nanban Tetsu Kore (o) Motte (南蛮鉄以之). This means “made with foreign steel”. Genuine works by this artist are rare and works with both the early signature of Shûten and the added information of being made with foreign steel are exceedingly rare.
After this smith started signing his name as Sôten and before he took the tonsure and adopted the Buddhist title of Nyûdô, many read his name as Munenori. Subsequent his adding the Buddhist title of Nyûdô to his name, it is read as Sôten. Most of his work was done in solid plate of iron or shakudô. The sukashi designs of warriors or Chinese sages (such as the tsuba presented here) or other openwork styles would be very rare for the first generation. He was a retainer of the daimyô Ii Kamon no Kami of Hikone and he also must have been a retainer of the Tokugawa Bakufu.
The carvings on this tsuba depict a Chinese sage sitting comfortably on his veranda of his house fishing and contemplating nature. The reverse shows the reverse of the monk with a small boat in the river below his residence. The boat has a partial woven reed cover which was made by applying a thin layer of shakudo over the iron. It is intricately carved and beautifully executed. In fact, the more you study this tsuba, the more of the beautiful carving details throughout will impress you.
This is a sophisticated work by Sōheishi Sōten. It is exquisitely carved with a great expression on the face of the Sage. The tsuba description is hakaku gata (octagonal), iron, nikubori ji-sukashi, zōgan inlay. This is a large and thick tsuba measuring just under 3 1/2 inches or 8.9 cm across. It is .28 inches or 0.7 cm thick.
The tsuba comes in a custom fitted wooden box and is accompanied by NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Kodogu (especially worthy of preservation) papers attesting to the validity of the signature and the quality of the work. This piece would be the cornerstone of any tsuba collection featuring Sôten school examples.