Pair of Ming Walnut Book Cabinets

Mid-18th c, walnut, original iron fittings, Shanxi.  30″w, 16.5″ d, 80.5″ h.

This pair of cabinets show the four-sides-square design.  Each one has open-sided space at the top and open shelf at the bottom.  In between the open display areas is a storage compartment behind a pair of pivot-hinged doors.  A shelf divides the space inside.

See Door Panel Detail

Each door panel is divided into two sets of big rectangular panels with beaded edges and cusped corners on recessed ground, arranged between three narrow “taohuan” panels with raised beaded borders and indented, lobed corners.  (Taohuan panel is the Chinese term used for narrow, usually horizontally oriented decorative panels, the presence of which is generally associated with early traditional style found in China).  The top and bottom open storage spaces and the pair of door panels are separated by “sword ridge” molded stretchers.  The doors have original metal lock-plates and door pulls.  The long and narrow lock-plate is fastened to the frame member with hand-hammered iron nails.  The presence of the original ironwork is valuable to the piece as much of the Chinese furniture found after the turbulent Cultural Revolution have lost the hardware due to the government’s need to confiscate them to be melted down for military and industrial use during the revolution.

This pair of cabinets once had a thick, dark tree-lacquer finish much of which has worn off due to age but shows patches of it that give the pair a wonderful patina.  A thick lacquer finish demonstrates value as lacquering is a labor-intensive process, the more coating, the more costly.  This thick lacquer coating on walnut, a traditionally expensive wood in China, as well as the meticulous way the cabinets were made, show they were likely made for a scholar, someone belonging to an elite class.  Typically, the scholar would have a pair made for his study, to be placed across the room from each other, or along a wall with a desk or clothing chest between them.  Today, it is best, if possible, to buy antiques meant for a pair in a pair as they are hard to find and so stand out more in a room,