Rare Sharkskin Blanket Chest with Round Iron Hinges

1860, sharkskin/brass wire inlay, iron fittings, found on Kangwha Island, Kyung Ki Do Province. Certified.

This rare chest was found on Kangwha Island, a political prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years.  It was discovered by a missionary doctor who was invited by the government to go there to treat the sick and dying after the Japanese Occupation.  He was allowed to take away any furniture the exiled took there as the ruling scholar/official class did not value furniture, or anything belonging to prisoners.

This chest is expensively and highly decorated all over the front, sides, and top panels with rare sharkskin and reverse brass wire.  It was most likely property of a high official from the palace to use it to store his clothing and other treasured personal belongings.  The metalware on this exquisite chest is of simple shape and is made of the rather unimpressive iron.  This metal was chosen as elite scholars were adherents of Buddhism, favoring simplicity in form and iron for its purity and quiet strength.  These iron fittings are now quite rusted.  The inside of the chest is lined but most of the lining has worn off.

This chest was passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who in the 1900s certified the piece as quite rare.  He was one of only thirteen certifiers approved by the Korean government at that period.