Rare Korean Palace Document Chest with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay


Circa 1860, Yi Dynasty; paulownia wood, mother-of-pearl inlaid.  30.5″ L, 14.75″ W, 18.25″ H

This document box was found after the Japanese Occupation on Kangwha Island, a political prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years.  It was found by an American missionary doctor who was invited to go there to treat the sick and the dying.  He could take it away as in that era, furniture was not appreciated by the elite class, who only cared for ceramic art, paintings, calligraphy and other scholarly writings.

This box was used to store documents.  The mother-of-pearl (nacre from lining of abalone and not the common oyster) bamboo design signifies “Loyalty to the King”, so this chest likely belonged to a high official with connection to the palace.  The outside condition of the box is very good but the paper lining the inside is torn.  (Paper lining was done in most furniture in Korea because the weather there is very humid in the summer and paper helps to preserve the wood).  The iron lock-plate is hand-made and original.  The piece is certified as rare by a Professor of Korean History and Antiquity, one of only thirteen certifiers approved by the Korean Government in the 1900s.