69. Chinese Song/Yuan dynasty silver ingot design on a lacquer coffer?

Sometimes things just stick in the mind… two years ago at a British Museum study day on Understanding the Silk Road, Dr Ladan Akbarnia gave a very interesting talk about the lacquered traveling coffer in the Brooklyn Museum: for more photos and details, see the Brooklyn Museum website:


Traveling Coffer, ca. 1250-1290, Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Asian Art Council, 1996.68. Weblink

An occupational hazard of working in East Asian numismatics is that you see coins everywhere: anything round with a square hole… and there are a lot of things that are round with a square hole in the middle.

This time, my eyes were drawn to what is described on the Brooklyn Museum website as “On the front and back each are two broad, flat loops, used to secure straps or cords tied around the trunk”… and I saw the shapes of Yuan dynasty ingots (and below them, at vague first glance, I saw coins with rims)

Could this be a playful use of money devices? I don’t know.

There is an inscription on the coffer: “Wenzhou xinheijie anningfang xia Ou jia shenghuo”  (Made by the Ou family of Wenzhou, Xinhe Street, Anning ward). The inscription’s not so clear on the website, but appears to be 溫州新河街安寧坊下歐家生活.

                   Traveling Coffer, ca. 1250-1290. Lacquer over leather, bamboo, wood, with metal mounts, 17 1/4 x 29 x 16 1/4 in. (43.8 x 73.7 x 41.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Asian Art Council, 1996.68. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1996.68_detail_SL3.jpg)

Traveling Coffer, ca. 1250-1290, Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Asian Art Council, 1996.68. Weblink

Wenzhou was certainly a prosperous place in those days, and coins and ingots do feature as decorative and symbolic motifs in Chinese art and design. But I can’t really take it much further than this, so I’ll just post the thought here, and see what happens.

Update, 5 Feb 2020: Many thanks to Andrew West for his comments on Twitter (@babelstone 5 Feb 2020) pointing out that the Download link on the website allows a much clearer image of the inscription (see below). He also suggests that “the coffer itself does not look 13th century to me. I would date it to the Ming dynasty on stylistic grounds. The Wanli gazeteer for Wenzhou records 安寧坊 which became 周宅巷 in Qing dynasty which is modern 周宅祠巷 off 信河街.”




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