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. Today many read his name as Munenori which was probably the way his name was read before he took the tonsure and adopted the Buddhist title of Nyûdô. Subsequent to that his name is read as Sôten. Most of his work was done in solid plate of iron or shakudô. The sukashi designs of warriors (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 can be described as yoroi-musha oni taiji sukashi-tsuba (鎧武者⻤退治透鐔) – Tsuba with openwork design depicting armored warriors driving out demons. The scene of the demons being driven out is gorgeously carved and interpreted in a highly realistic manner. The full signature on this tsuba is:
Sōheishi Kitagawa Nyūdō Sōten sei ‒ Gōshū Hikone-jū hitsuji gogatsu kichijitsu (藻柄⼦喜多河⼊道宗典製・江州彦根住未五⽉吉⽇). This translates as: Made by the lay priest Sōheishi Kitagawa Sōten, resident of Hikone in Ōmi province, on a lucky day in the fifth month, year of the sheep.
Even though we do not have a full date on this tsuba, we do have the partial zodiacal date of being made in May of the year of the sheep. Using that as a starting point and comparing it to other dated works by him including one piece that is dated as being made in 1750 at the age of 72, we can interpolate that in all probability this tsuba was made in either 1727 or 1739.
This is a sophisticated work by Sōheishi Sōten. It is exquisitely carved with great expressions on the faces of the Samurai and the Oni. One other point that is unusual is that some of the oni are carrying swords. The tsuba description is marugata, iron, nikubori ji-sukashi, zōgan inlay, rim with shakudō-fukurin. This tsuba measures 3 1/8 inches or 8 cm round. Overall, this tsuba is extra important because of the fact that it is signed with the family name ,Kitagawa, and dated with a reference to the zodiacal year of the sheep.
The tsuba comes in a custom fitted wooden box and is accompanied by NBTHK Hozon 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.