The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive


The Find of the Chest from Late Edo

I own a small Japanese chest from the late Edo or early Meiji period. I
found it at a yard sale in Miami. It was in 28 pieces, fairly broken up.
The seller, who was an interior decorator, suggested I take the drawers
out and use some as knick-knacks. I thought of mono no aware. She sold it
to me for 5 dollars. I took it home and carefully repaired it. It is
missing one cover and one small drawer rail. It is about 18" x 14" x 9".
It is not very large. It has six drawers and two small shelves. The
pictures are delicate and beautifully rendered. The drawers are decorated
with gold on black lacquer background. The largest drawer stretches the
width of the chest and portrays two samurai and an armored horse against a
landscape. The other drawers have floral, landscape, or miscellaneous
motifs. There is a beautiful crab, several flowers, a boat formed with two
golden lines.The decorations on the top and sides are stylized fans. The
lower side of the bottom of the three smallest drawers have a sign _ro_ on
them. I think this stands for satisfactory - the decorations were okayed.
The piece was probably made in a small workshop. There are engraved metal
reinforcements on many of the corners. These are held in place with small
hand-made nails. This is a terrific piece. There are two hinges in the
middle of the chest and a metal receptacle for a lock on a strip of wood
reinforcing the bottom. At one time, a small cover must have been present,
partially covering the drawers and/or shelves. The background lacquer is
black, almost dark brown in places. The back of the chest was painted with
another black lacquer that has mostly peeled off. I used Elmer's glue for
repairing the chest, and cleaned it softly, first with water, and then
with Pledge. The lacquer is flaked in many places. The chest is what a
find. The drawers have small turned ivory pulls on them, except for one,
which has a small engraved metal handle. One of the other drawers shows
signs of being converted from a similar metal handle to an ivory pull. I
have many small Buddhist relics in the chest, but almost all of them are


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