Chinese camphor chests arrived with our latest container
After weeks on the water our latest shipment of Chinese antique furniture has now arrived into the UK, due into the warehouse in the next few days. As usual, as well as the cabinets, trunks and other pieces, there are plenty of wonderful smaller accessories to come to the showroom here in Saltaire, so we are looking forward to another day of unpacking and arranging for display.
Among the antique furniture are some more beautiful camphor chests, such as the one shown here. The Chinese never hung clothes vertically as we do in the West, but would instead fold and store them either in tall cabinets or in blanket chests like this. They were used throughout China both in the home and for traveling, and were often made in stackable sets. In central and western parts of China the chests were often made of pine, fir or other similar woods and brightly painted (see some of our wonderful painted trunks from Qinghai province), but in northern and eastern parts they tended to be plainer, made either from elm or camphor wood, or sometimes covered with leather and lacquered.
Camphor wood was popular partly for its attractive grain, particularly in certain species of the wood such as the variety known as ‘tiger skin’, which was especially prized. However camphor also has a very distinctive, natural aroma which acts as a repellent to insects. It therefore kept clothes, bedding and other possessions safe from any moths and other pests.
In Beijing and the surrounding regions, where we source most of our camphor trunks, they tended to be quite plain in design, with just the heavy brass hardware and handles as decoration. In the south of China they would often be carved – being a very hard wood camphor takes carving very easily, and many pieces were made for export in the early part of the 20th century and shipped back from Hong Kong by westerners.
The chests that we have available tend to date from the beginning of the 20th century and are from the Beijing area. They are usually stripped back to the natural pale colour of the camphor wood and then resealed, although in some cases we will have them stained darker. The distinctive scent of the camphor is still present as, with the exception of the less prized ‘yellow camphor’, it does not diminish over time. The chests vary in size but tend to be around W90 x D50 x H45cm – ideal as a little coffee table in a modern home, with plenty of space inside for storage.