Korean Jangdo Knife

A very unusual, fancy example of a traditional Korean iconic knife

Jangdo is the general term for a small ornamental knife with a sheath carried in clothing. A knife worn on the waist or hung by a coat string is called a paedo and a nangdo when carried in a pocket. The origin of the custom of carrying a jangdo is subject to debate. Some believe that the custom evolved from the Mongols after the Goryeo Dynasty was conquered by China‚Äôs Yuan Dynasty, while others say it is indigenous to Korea and continued from the Three Kingdoms era to the time of enlightenment. At the Tomb of Baekje King Muryeong, gold and silver ornamental knives and eunjangdo were excavated while ringed and ornamental knives were unearthed at the ancient tombs of the Silla Kingdom. A record from the Goryeo era saying wearing a dagger was prohibited also claimed that the carrying of a jangdo existed as a custom on the Korean Peninsula from a long time ago. Because this is not one of the very common designs it is difficult to date. I would guess it was made in the 19th century.  It definitely appears to have been made for a wealthy or important man.

Common jangdo knives

The picture to the right shows two examples of common jangdo knives.  The upper one has a pair of chopsticks with it. The bottom one is a simple dagger style.  These two are not for sale in this ad but will be available in other sales. The super jangdo pictured below is the one for sale here.


Below you see this very ornate example of a Jangdo with all its parts removed.  It includes the knife, the chopsticks, which appear to be made of bone and what I am guessing to be a toothpick, seen between the knife and the chopsticks.  Each piece has its own fitted compartment to slide into the handle.


Dramas and movies tend to emphasize that this kind of knife was the exclusive property of women, but it was actually used by men as well. Jangdo was utilized both indoors and outdoors for such uses as cutting paper, carving a top, trimming twigs or using for self-defense. As the knife grew more prevalent during the Joseon Dynasty and its decorative nature and symbolism were emphasized as well as its practicality, a woman about to get married received a jangdo from her parents so that she could fulfill her proper role in married life; a man also got the knife from his parents upon reaching adulthood so that he could be loyal to the country and fulfill his duty to his friends.


This view shows the tops of the knife hilt, the toothpick and the chopsticks. The fitting at the top of the hilt appears to be made of bone. 


Detail of the center fitting holding the belt strap


The fitting at the bottom of the sheath appears to be made of bone. 

The image at the right shows a slight bit of damage that appears on the hilt (circled in red) It is difficult to see but because it has this imperfection I wanted to point it out to you.