Rare Korean Medicine and Document Storage Cabinet

Circa 1860, Yi Dynasty; probably made in Cholla or Kyongsang Province but found in Kanghwa Island
Persimmon and gingko wood, brass fittings
H. 131 cm, L. 95cm, D. 25cm

Authentic Korean medicine chests are known to be the most sought after by museums and medical art-institutes in the world as not many of them survived the many wars fought in Korea throughout its history.

This present tall cabinet is a very unique one as it stores both herbal medicine and important documents for its owner. It is made of hard, crack-resistant gingko wood. The top level consists of four sliding panels made of persimmon wood with its dramatic dark-and-light colored grain pattern. Each panel is decorated with a tiered brass disk in the middle, with one having the top round plate able to be lifted to reveal a keyhole. This special panel can be lifted out and when it is removed, the other panels can slide to this spot and lift out, revealing a storage compartment behind for storing documents. Below this tier of decorated panels is a row of four drawers each with a lock-plate decorated with a brass chrysanthemum flower head that can be push up to lock the drawer, and each has a double-hook drawer pull. On each side of the lock-plate is inscribed the name of some medicine that need to be stored inside these special drawers. The rest of this medicine cabinet contains the usual tiers of small drawers for storing herbal medicine. All the metal fittings on this cabinet are made of yellow brass. The chest sits on a stand with four slightly hooked feet. For a family medicine cabinet, this one is so elegantly constructed it is undoubtedly made for a very wealthy household.

This cabinet was found after the Japanese Occupation 0n Kangwha Island, a prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years. It was recovered by an American missionary doctor who was invited by the government to go there to treat the sick and the dying. He was allowed to take 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. He lived the rest of his life in Korea. This cabinet was later passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who certified this piece as quite rare.