Extremely Rare Korean Scholar’s Book Chest with Printing Block Panels


Circa 1860 (Yi Dynasty); pear wood, iron fittings, printing-block panels; oil finish; found on Kanghwa Island, Korea; certified.  36″ w, 17″d, 34″ h.

This exceptional book chest with front drawers and panels done in Chinese printing block style is perhaps one of a kind found in Korea.  It was done at a time when the Yi Court paid homage to China and all high officials had to be able to read and write Chinese.

The chest was used to store a scholar/official’s books and documents.  The top panel has molded everted ends like one on an altar table and is decorated with a corner curvilinear spandrel below it.  The body is made up of a row of three drawers at the top, with three tiers of framed, recessed panels below behind which is a big storage compartment.  The front panel of each drawer is decorated with Chinese printing block characters like pages in a textbook.  Below this row, four tiered panels in the middle of the chest form a pair of doors for the storage compartment.  All these other panels around the pair of doors act as decorative fronts for the large compartment.  The chest is made of paulownia wood which is known for withstanding moisture and temperature changes and is considered to have insect-repellent qualities, so is a wood popular for storing clothes, books, and manuscripts.  The interior of the storage compartment is lined with Chinese textbook pages.

This book chest is not only distinguished by the printed block panels but also by its structure and material.  The drawers and panels are all separated by molded and beaded stretchers and struts.  The simple drawer pulls, lock plates and hinges are all made of iron, a material valued by Buddhist and Confucian period scholars for its purity and quiet strength.  The scholar would further appreciate this chest for its fluid structure and elegant profile.  The framing posts not only holds the main body but continue down the chest to end with graceful cabriole legs standing on side base stretchers, securing the corners of the bottom tier of the chest to the legs with metal braces.  This chest displays attributes that early period scholars admired:  Structure, balance, and dignity.

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 as the ruling class did not care for furniture.  For his humanitarian work the doctor was honored with Korean citizenship.  The chest was later passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who certified this chest as extremely rare, perhaps only one exist anywhere.


















































































efurniture.rofessor of Korean History and Antiquity, who certified it as quite rare.

See Character Detail



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