Korean Art and Korean Antiques

19th Century Coin Chest with Beautiful Ironwork

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Korean: Furniture: Pre 1900: Item # 805655

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Korean Art and Antiques
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This piece was recently on view at an exhibition at the Korea Society. Genuine 19th Century Ton-kwe (Korean Coin Chests) are becoming increasingly rare on the antiques market. They are highly prized by collectors, as their purpose required that they be the heaviest and most well constructed piece of furniture in the home. Paper money did not exist in Joseon Dynasty Korea, and the coins were of very small denominations. They had to be strung together in large, heavy quantities to have any worth, so a strong money box was a necessity. Here's a funny quote from 1898 on Korean money by Mattie Ingold, an American missionary physician who worked in Jeonju: "If Korean money were proportionately as great in value as it is in weight and clumsiness, the Koreans would be a very wealthy people." This coin chest is a fine and old example. The iron lockplate is itself a work of art. It is in the shape of an inventively rendered swallowtail, and is adorned with wan symbols (the wheel of life in Buddhism and the symbol of universal peace and harmony), a symbol that actually predates Buddhism and originally represented the revolving sun or life. In Buddhism it represents represents the Heart of the Buddha, resignation of spirit, and all happiness that humanity desires. The swallowtail shape is echoed in the iron hinges. The swallow is a symbol of beauty and prosperity in Korea. 36w x 21h x 17.5d inches, 91.5 x 53.5 x 44.5 cm.