Lot 210
  • 210


80,000 - 120,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Length 20 1/8  in., 51 cm
the fine blade well cast with a crisp median ridge and beveled edges tapering toward a pointed tip, the cylindrical hilt encircled by two flanges with abstract scrollwork, below a wing-shaped guard decorated on either side with a stylized mythical beast mask, all above a disc-shaped pommel, one side of the blade with two columns of inscription, each comprising six characters in niaochongzhuan (bird-worm seal script) reading Caigongzi Cong zhiyong (for the use of Cong, son of the Marquis of Cai), the inscription, guard and handle flanges inlaid with turquoise, the other side plain, the surface with areas of malachite encrustation


C.T. Loo, New York, 1941.
Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).


An Exhibition of Chinese Bronzes, C.T. Loo & Co., New York, 1939, cat. no. 47.
An Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Ritual Bronzes Loaned by C.T. Loo & Co., The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, 1940, cat. no. 55.
Exhibition of Chinese Arts, C.T. Loo & Co., New York, 1941, cat. no. 104.


Xu Naichang, ed., Anhui tongzhi jinshi guwu kaogao [Manuscript of studying archaic bronze and antiquities from Anhui], vol. 16, Anhui, 1936, p. 6. 
Shodō zenshū [Complete volumes of calligraphy]vol. 1: Chūgoku [China] I, Tokyo, 1965, p. 107.
Zhou Fagao, Sandai jijin wencun bu [Supplements of surviving writings from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties] Taipei, 1980, no. 845.
Yan Yiping, Jinwen Zongji [Corpus of bronze inscriptions], Taipei, 1983, no. 7690.
Cao Jinyan and Zhang Guangyu, ed., Dongzhou niaozhuan wenzi bian [Compilation of bird seal script from the Eastern Zhou dynasty], Hong Kong, 1994, no. 31.
Cui Hengsheng, Anhui chutu jinwen dingbu [Inscriptions on archaic bronze excavated in Anhui: addendum], Anhui, 1998, no. 134.
Cao Jinyan, Niaochongshu tongkao [Comprehensive study of bird-worm seal script], Shanghai, 1999, fig. 110.
Institute of Archaeology, CASS, ed., YinZhou Jinwen Jicheng [Compendium of bronze inscriptions from Yin and Zhou dynasties], Beijing, 2007, pl. 11605.
Wu Zhenfeng, Shangzhou qingtongqi mingwen ji tuxiang jicheng [Compendium of inscriptions and images of bronzes from Shang and Zhou dynasties], vol. 33, Shanghai, 2012, no. 17837. 

Catalogue Note

The present sword is a very rare example among inscribed weapons produced during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. The inscription was first cast to the blade in intaglio, then inlaid with turquoise forming two columns of characters in mirror images. The inscription reads Caigongzi Cong zhiyong, which can be translated to 'for the use of Cong, son of the Marquis of Cai'.

Apart from the present lot, four other bronze weapons with the same inscription are known: one, also a sword, made of iron, with the six characters arranged in two columns, reportedly in a Japanese collection, is published in Wu Zhenfeng, Shangzhou qingtongqi mingwen ji tuxiang jicheng [Compendium of inscriptions and images of bronzes from Shang and Zhou dynasties], vol. 33, Shanghai, 2012, no. 17838; three halberd blades, two with the inscription inlaid in gold along the yuan and the hu, one in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is published in ibid., vol. 31, Shanghai, 2012, no. 16905, the other in Prince Kung's Mansion, Beijing, is published on the museum's website; and the fourth, cast with the six-character inscription to the hu in two columns, is illustrated in op. cit., vol. 31, Shanghai, 2012, no. 16906.

The inscription identifies the present sword as belonging to someone named Cong, who was the son of the Marquis of the Cai state. This name, however, does not appear to be recorded in any historical texts. The history of the Cai state goes back to the very beginning of the Zhou dynasty. According to Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), the first King of Zhou, King Wu, granted his brother Cai Shudu the territory of Cai (today's Shangcai county, Hennan province). The Cai state had a brief moment of glory, but soon was overshadowed by its powerful neighbors. In the late Spring and Autumn period, the Chu state invaded Cai, and forced it to relocate its capital to Zhoulai (today's Shouxian, Fengtai and Huinan in Anhui province) in 493 B.C. Although Cai survived the Chu's attack, it was eventually conquered by the King Hui of Chu in 447 B.C.

According to Anhui tongzhi jinshi guwu kaogao [Manuscript of studying archaic bronze and antiquities from Anhui], vol. 16, Anhui, 1936, p. 6, the present sword was discovered in Shouxian, Anhui province. This narrows Cong's dates to a relatively short period, from the relocation of the Cai's capital in 493 B.C. to its downfall in 447 B.C. During this time span of 46 years, five monarchs ruled Cai successively, including Marquis Zhao, Marquis Cheng, Marquis Sheng, Marquis Yuan, and Marquis Qi. Cong, therefore, would likely be the son of one of these five marquises.

The style of the inscription on the present sword is called niaochongzhuan (bird-worm seal script). As the name suggests, this type of seal script incorporates pictorial elements into the calligraphy, creating highly artistic characters resembling abstract forms of birds and worms. Although it is still unclear when exactly it was invented, niaochongzhuan was a very popular form of calligraphy during the Eastern Zhou dynasty, mostly among the states in the southern regions, including Cai, Chu, Wu, and Yue. Following the collapse of the Zhou dynasty, this extraordinary form of writing was gradually replaced by other styles of calligraphy, but has survived as an art form to this day.