Ming Metal Sheets Lined Temple Money Chest

14th-16th Century; Shanxi
Iron sheets and boss-head nails over core wood
H. 28″, L. 38″. D. 23″

Buddhism has deep cultural roots in Shanxi, spreading there from India through trade over the Silk Road as far back as Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). In Ming period, money chests were the most revered furniture as adherents of Buddhism believed that by donating money to temples, they could have the monks and nuns intervene for them to eventually secure a path to enlightenment and a favorable rebirth.

This money chest is completely covered with costly metal sheets overlaid with iron boss-head nails. It has a hinged lid and a lock-plate in the shape of a “ruyi” symbolizing a hope for harmony and good fortune being granted. A thick iron handle is on each side of the chest to help in moving this heavy chest around. The iron sheet covering has turned a dull rusty color with age but manages to give this chest an appearance of somber majesty.

A big chest like this would have been used not only to hold donated coins but also valuable ritual offering items. It survived in Shanxi in such good condition no doubt because it is completely covered with metal but also because it was being warehoused in geologically hard to access Shanxi, which prevented infiltration of wars that destroyed many other area’s treasures. Temple money chests are some of the hardest furniture to find today, especially a metal one in original condition.

This chest was discovered in Shanxi in the 1990s and taken to Beijing by a Chinese antiques expert taught by a Shanxi old-master of Chinese furniture-making. It was bought as is.