Exceptional Korean Wedding Chest with Bamboo-like Slats Construction

Circa 1880, Yi Dynasty
Zelkova wood base, pear wood slats, persimmon Chinese characters, iron fittings
H. 25”, L. 36”, D. 15″

This bandaji (blanket chest) is crafted with bamboo-like pear wood slats fitted and glued into patterns over a zelkova wood base, with the dark grain pattern of the two-toned persimmon wood used to form the “Double Happiness” Chinese characters.  This pattern is crafted all over the front, sides, and top of the chest.  This method of construction represents a genre of Korean furniture very hard to be reproduced because it is so labor-intensive and costly to attempt to do, making this kind of period furniture quite rare today.

This exceptionally constructed chest was no double made as a wedding present for a couple from the wealthy Yanban (landed aristocracy) class.  The “Double Happiness” characters on the front panels are made from the dark grain part of the persimmon wood.  The core wood on this chest is zelkova, a wood known for density and durability, and is highly prized in Korea as well as Japan.  The chest has thick iron fittings.  The rather common iron was chosen as the literati of that period were adherents of Buddhism and Confucianism and favored iron for its purity and quiet strength.  The inside of the chest seems to be nicely paper lined for withstanding moisture but now only shreds of it remained.  This chest sits on wood blocks to keep it off the “ondol” system heated floor most Korean upper-class families of that period built into their houses.

This chest was found after the Japanese Occupation on Kanghwa Island, a political prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years.  It was recovered by an American missionary doctor when he was invited to go there to treat the sick and the dying.  He was allowed to take away any furniture the exiled took there because the ruling scholar/official class did not value furniture.  For his humanitarian work, he was honored with Korean citizenship.  He lived the rest of his life in Korea. This chest was later passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who certified this chest as quite rare.