Korean Antique Medicine Cabinet with “Ginseng” and “Deer Horn” Characters on Panels

Circa 1860, zelkova for frame, paulownia for drawers, original iron fittings; Cheon Ra Buk Do Province.  37″w, 10″d, 56.5″h.

Authentic Korean medicine cabinets are some of the most sought-after furniture by medical art institutions in the world as not many survived the Korean wars.  This cabinet has a storage compartment at the top with two big sliding doors, made specially for storing the highly sought-after herbs Ginseng and Deer Horn.  Below this compartment are tiers of small drawers for storing more common herbs.  All the drawers are divided inside.  Chinese characters indicating the name of the herbs are painted on with yellow paint.  The tiers of small drawers below the sliding door unit have brass pulls in the shape of a pomegranate, and those on the big drawers at the bottom of the chest have double-hook handles.  Chinese characters were used in many Korean chests as the Yi dynasty elite official class paid homage to China.  The front of this cabinet is in very good condition, but the back panel lined with rice paper is torn in many places, exposing some cracks on the panel.

This kind of medicine cabinet would usually be seen in a doctor’s home although some wealthy families would have their own medicine chests.  A finely made medicine cabinet like this one was likely made for a Yangban (landed aristocracy) household.  This cabinet is certified as quite rare by a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity as not many antique medicine cabinets survived.