A rare Japanese Edo period copper tsuba in snake shape.
A tsuba is the hand guard of a Japanese sword. It served several purposes. The tsuba balanced the sword. And it protected the hand of the sword holder from an attack by an enemy as well as from gliding into the sword blade. The third purpose was a more refined one. The Japanese tsuba developed into a kind of a status symbol for the sword owner. Thus the Japanese sword tsuba became an elaborate piece of art - far beyond its practical use.