Important Korean Royal Wedding Chest with Inlaid Double Happiness Characters

Circa 1860, Chosen Dynasty
Black lacquer over core wood, pear wood inlaid characters, brass fittings
H. 80 cm, L. 93 cm, D. 43,5 cm

This exceptional looking chest is inlaid on the front panel with the Chinese “Double Happiness” characters and rows of diamond-shaped design around the door panels and above to wish the married couple abundant happiness and wealth in their married life.  The top and side panels are also inlaid with the diamond design.  All these designs are made of sturdy and crack resistant pear wood and then inlaid on the chest, not written on it.  This is labor-intensive work and so is very expensive, affordable only by a member of the royal family, or one belonging to the Yangban class (landed aristocracy) at the time.  This chest also has expensive brass fittings.

The core wood used in the construction of this chest is likely zelkova, a wood known for its density and durability.  The body of the chest is attached to a well-carved thick wood base instead of sitting on wood blocks to lift it off a heated floor.  This means some special thought has gone into making this chest.  It would likely be placed in the ‘anbang’, literally meaning “inner room”, a special room attached to the main room of the house where family treasures were kept and where exclusive members of the house could reach.

This 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 any personal items the exiled took there as the ruling class did not care for anything belonging to the prisoners, especially furniture.  For his humanitarian work he was honored with Korean citizenship.  He spent the rest of his life in Korea.  He later passed this chest to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity who certified this chest as quite rare.