Exquisite Korean A-Class Scholar’s Document Chest

Circa 1870, Yi Dynasty
Dark lacquer on core wood, sharkskin, yellow brass wire, iron fittings
H. 19.75, L. 32.25, D. 16”

This chest is beautifully decorated on the front and top with clusters of sharkskin inlaid flower petals amid thick twisted yellow brass wire tendrils.  The sides and back are of core-wood.  The front has a small drawer in the middle of the top with a storage compartment below closed by a pair of doors.  On each side of the middle section is a pair of stacked-unit drawers.  The top panel is extended and finely balanced at the base of the chest by a slightly extended brass wire inlaid stand with corners curved into horse-hoof feet standing on side floor stretchers.  This balanced look creates an elegant profile for this low chest, which besides storing documents, likely other small treasured personal items too.  At that ancient time, a magnificently decorated chest like this would be placed in a private room attached to the main room of the house called the ‘anbang’ where exclusive members of the house could reach.  All the metal fittings on this chest are of iron and are original.

This low-standing document 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 who 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 scholar/official class did not care for furniture.  For his humanitarian work, the doctor was honored with Korean citizenship.  He spent the rest of his life in Korea.  The chest was later passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who certified this chest as quite rare.