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Wooden Antique Chinese Boxes

Chinese boxes were designed during the Qing Dynasty to hold a multitude of things, including tea, opium, gifts, toys, pillows, and writing supplies. While many had straight sides, others were intricately shaped into numerous layouts. Some people choose to collect wooden antique Chinese boxes.

What materials were frequently added to wooden antique Chinese boxes?

While many of the original Chinese boxes were woven from plant materials, they were later frequently made from rosewood and other hardwoods. Craftspeople added a variety of decorations to these boxes including:

  • Porcelain: Frequently a porcelain lid with a pattern painted on it was used as a lid.
  • Brass: Details, such as handles and lids, were sometimes constructed of brass.
  • Silver: Since silver could be shaped, many silver details were frequently added.
  • Greenware: Details made of celadon and fired in a kiln were sometimes added.
  • Bone: Carvers used animal bones to create a variety of details for boxes.
  • Nephrite: Ranging from translucent white to green, this mineral was sometimes carved to make adornments for lids.
  • Copper: Easy shaping made this material able to be added to wooden boxes.
What are some types of finishes applied to boxes?

A variety of different finishes were applied including:

  • Lacquerware: Up to 300 layers of lacquer was sometimes added to give the box a glossy finish. Others chose to add lacquer and carve patterns in it.
  • Chinoiserie: Boxes were frequently painted with Chinese motifs done in the Chinoiserie style.
  • Japaning: Dried sap of the Toxicodendron vernicifluum tree was painted onto the boxes, giving them their black appearance. Then, other motifs were sometimes added.
  • Cloisonné: Wooden boxes were frequently covered with wire before layers of decorative work made with glass, enamel, or gemstones were added.
  • Stringing: Decorative pieces of string were sometimes wrapped around the exterior.
What were some common design elements?

Since each piece was crafted by hand, each craftsman used his ideas. Yet many of these units have some common elements including:

  • Lids: Many types of lids were used, but most attached with hinges and had a locking mechanism.
  • Edging: These narrow strips of copper, brass, or another metal were frequently attached near the top, bottom, and corners of the box.
  • Banding: Other narrow pieces of metal were sometimes attached to the box to make it stronger or to add decorative details.
  • Inlays: Many craftspeople chose to carve a depression in the lid or sides of the box that they filled with decorations.
How do you select a wooden antique Chinese box?

There is a multitude of possibilities, so choosing the right one can seem like an overwhelming task. Following some simple guidelines can help:

  • Select a size: Units are available that are about the size of a hand to those big enough to hold pillows.
  • Select a preferred material: Wooden units have a variety of different materials added.
  • Select a color: Wooden ones have been painted, lacquered, or had other color added to them.
  • Select a design: A variety of different patterns are available.
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