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Asian octagon chest of drawers

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Dressers343 of 550Dresser serpentine with oval mirrorMid Century Men's Chest Dresser
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Posted 4 years ago

(3 items)

Dimensions are approximate because of the funky shape:
24 inches H x 17 1/2 inches W x 9 inches D

Purchased this at a private sale north of Chicago. The only info that I got was that the woman's mother purchased it at an auction in the 1970s. It was listed as Chinese but I don't think it feels Chinese. Someone else who saw the photos thought perhaps Korean. As far as age, it feels like 1920s to me but that is a total guess. All the inside of the drawers are black lacquer.
The 3rd photo above has what I think is a signature in the lower right drawer inlay work.

I would love to know what-the-heck it was used to hold, when it was made & who made it. Not asking for much, am I (lol)? The inlay really is fantastic and looks like months, if not years of work.

Mystery Solved


  1. Plantlust, 4 years ago
    Forgot to add that it was falling apart when I bought it and I had Montalbano repair it without redoing the finish (they deal more in French and English antiques). Now I can move it around without worrying that it will collapse on me!
  2. kyratango kyratango, 4 years ago
    Don't think chinese too! Korean or japanese, nice inlay work!
  3. Plantlust, 4 years ago
    Thanks for the info, Idcloisonne. Can you tell me what makes it Japanese over Korean? Any idea what it would have stored? Any idea where to find an expert that might be able to translate the character signature?

    The drawers are not lined with metal(all black lacquer), so I suspect it wouldn't have held tea. Oh and the top of the cabinet flips up to open and it has a lock but I don't have a key and it's been taped so it won't lock.
  4. fhrjr2 fhrjr2, 4 years ago
    Kind of sounds like that was copied word for word out of a book.
  5. Plantlust, 4 years ago
    Another piece of the puzzle solved. Sent an email to a company in SFO that sells Asian antiques. Based on the photos on their website, very expensive, high quality stuff. Their response?

    Japanese export ware, circa late 1900s.

    I find it hard to believe that this would have been made in 1999, especially since it was purchased in the 1970s(lol). So then that would make it late 1800s? And export ware implies it was specifically made for outsiders/foreigners.

    At least this gives me someplace to continue to research. I would love to know the maker...

    Thanks Idcloisonne, your insight gave me more specific places to look. I KNEW it didn't feel as substantial as Chinese pieces and when I did a quick check on Japanese, I only found tanzu which was heavy looking & not as delicate as this.

    I really hope I can eventually find out who the maker was.
  6. shrine shrine, 4 years ago
    I don't know much about the furniture itself, but it likely to be from Japan for the wood grain and inlaid motif.
  7. Plantlust, 4 years ago
    HaHa. More spelunking found the same shaped cabinet, with inlay, slightly larger tho, that was sold in the UK. No pricing or makers name but the cabinet was listed as a large Meiji period cabinet on stand. Link below:

    So that fits the time period, as the Meiji era (according to Wikipedia) is from slightly past mid 1800s to about 1912. Their cabinet has a door that folds out into a writing surface, which fits with what Idcloisonne mentioned about calligraphy. I tried to zoom in on the photos of the larger cabinet to find a signature inlay, like I thought mine has but it doesn't look like theirs was signed.

    At least I've got some progress to show...
  8. Plantlust, 4 years ago
    Figures that it wouldn't be a signature. Drat.
    Well at least I have a translation. Need all the luck that I can get(lol).
  9. Plantlust, 4 years ago
    Got a response back from the UK company which sold the larger, similar cabinet.
    "This style of cabinet was made in Japan between the 1890s and 1920s. They are loosely called Shadonas and were made for export to Europe where there was a spike of interest in all things Japanese. They are not particularly rare, the most sought after are the large ones as the quality is not particularly good.

    We find that they are purchased more for their decorative value rather than their antique value."

    I wonder if that is UK/Europe vs US. I haven't seen any other cabinets like mine "here". Anyway, further confirmation & mystery solved!
    Thanks for all the help, it's totally appreciated.
  10. kyratango kyratango, 4 years ago
    Thank you for this very interesting post, and for sharing such a nice item! ;-)

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