“Changsok” refers to the metal decoration used on Korean furniture. These metal fixtures served both utilitarian and decorative purposes, being crafted from materials like cast iron, copper, tin, nickel, and white brass.
The white brass alloy, which includes tin and sometimes nickel in addition to the conventional copper and zinc found in yellow brass, may also contain lead. The exact color varies based on the proportions of these principal ingredients. Copper is abundant across the Korean peninsula, while tin is primarily mined in the Sokcho city area on the east-central coast (Edward Reynolds Wright & Man Sill Pai, “KOREAN FURNITURE, Elegance & Tradition”).
These metal decorations come in various shapes and designs, tailored to the type and size of the chest. They play a dual role in strengthening joints and compensating for wood shrinkage or expansion, with the additional note that, on old pieces, they were all handmade.
During the early period (18th century to mid-19th century), metal hinge patterns on furniture were sparse, simple, and modest. Metalwork served essential functions in a straightforward form until the early 19th century, with the emphasis shifting to the decorative aspect as it was passed down to later generations.
By the end of the 19th century, more ornate types of metalwork emerged, with many decorative motifs drawing inspiration from Chinese philosophy.
In the early 20th century, various new techniques, including engraving, embossing, and incising, were employed to enhance the decoration of plates.
On Bandaji, with the exception of some pieces from the northern part of Korea, such as Pyongyang and Gaesong, which were adorned with brass plates, most of the metalwork was executed using rough iron. The same iron metalwork was applied to various kitchen chests or coin chests to a lesser extent.
Yellow and white brass metalwork found its place on other types of furniture, such as “Jang” (Morijang) or headside chests, (Ich’ung Jang) or two-level chests, (Samch’ung Jang) or three-level chests. For “Uigori Jang“, also known as a wardrobe, a design specific to the 20th century, yellow or white brass was commonly used. The same can be said for small boxes designed to store documents, mirror boxes, shelves, and document chests.
Changes in the use of materials from the Joseon period to the present day.
An analysis of antique pieces reveals that a significant portion of Korean furniture featured blackened iron hinges. This is especially true for bandaji, book chests, kitchen chests…
As mentioned earlier, clothing chests from the 19th century could, however, be adorned with metal parts in yellow or white brass.
Our research unveiled that, during that era, the more costly yellow brass was employed in furniture crafted for the upper classes. In contrast, white brass was more prevalent, evident in its widespread use on furniture in the northern provinces of the peninsula.
In the 20th century, with the emergence of an export market to the West, the numerous reproductions primarily utilized yellow brass hinges.
The transition from white brass to yellow brass in the metalwork of Korean reproduction furniture likely stems from several contributing factors. Firstly, aesthetics: the rich, warm tone of yellow brass has become more synonymous with quality and tradition, rendering it more desirable in reproduction pieces that often aim to evoke a sense of history or classic style. Secondly, the composition of the alloys: white brass, higher in zinc, is more brittle and challenging to work with than yellow brass. Although it may have been more economical in the past, advances in metalworking technology and the globalization of resources have likely minimized the cost differences. Lastly, health and environmental concerns: white brass often contains lead, which has been phased out of many products due to health risks. In contrast, yellow brass is typically lead-free, making it safer and more environmentally friendly. Therefore, while white brass may have been the economical choice in the past, yellow brass has become the standard for various reasons today.
Lock plates are flat metal mounts on which a lock and lock receptacles are positioned. They serve to shield the surface of furniture from direct contact with locks.
Situated at the front top of the furniture, they were a significant feature on bandaji. In Korean, they are referred to as “Appat’ang”. Due to their prominently visible placement, they also came in a variety of shapes.
Hinges are metal mounts used to attach doors to the body of furniture, allowing a door to open and close. In Korean, they are referred to as “Kyongch’op”. Depending on the region, they were made of iron, white, or yellow brass. Their designs provide information about the geographic origin of the Bandaji.
On the “Sung Sun I” Bandaji, the beauty of the metalwork is showcased through its intricate geometric patterns with elaborate openwork. It employs a technique of carving out patterns by chiseling each piece (iron is hardened by heating it in a fire).
CLOUDS PATTERN HINGES
SQUARE PATTERN HINGES
The Swallowtail pattern was highly popular throughout Korea.
White brass was utilized in the northern part of the peninsula, while iron was widely employed in Jeolla Do and Gangwon Do provinces.
GOURD OR VASE PATTERN
THE NAMDAEMUM GATE PATTERN
This pattern was primarily used on Bandaji from the northern part of the peninsula, which is now known as North Korea.
These plates could be made in brass for Pyongyang Bandaji or iron for Sung Sun I Bandaji.
The South Gate motif, known as “Namdaemun” (남대문) in Korean, is a common decorative element found in traditional Korean furniture and architecture. Namdaemun refers to the Great South Gate, one of the historical gates in Seoul, South Korea. It is an iconic symbol in Korean culture and is often incorporated into various forms of art and design, representing the gate as a symbol of protection.
THE BUTTERFLY PATTERN (HINGES)
DOUBLE CABBAGE PATTERN
Handles attached to the front panels or side panels on bandaji are used to lift furniture or to open drawers and doors.
In Korean they are called “Tul soe ”. The most common shapes used for handles included flower, bat and butterfly.
JOINT & CORNER PLATES
Also called corner plates metal mount, they are attached on structurally jointed parts to reinforce the joint or just as a decorative purpose.
Metal plates are attached to the corners to protect it from damage.
CENTRAL DECORATIVE PLATES
A metal plate of a different shape is attached to the middle top or bottom of the front chest to give accent to the piece, serving a purely decorative purpose.
Central decorative plates called “Kwangdujong” were widely used on bandaji. Sometimes, they were used to attach handles to facilitate lifting.
FISH & BIRD PATTERNS.
White brass sea bream also called the “crucian carp” on Bandaji from the northern provinces. Usually located at the bottom of the chest as a decorative purpose..
CHINESE CHARACTERS & AUSPICIOUS MOTIFS
“TAEGEUK” and “MANJA” motifs.
The “RUYI” motif.
Ruyi 如意 is a Chinese curved decorative object that serves as either a ceremonial scepter in Chinese Buddhism or a talisman symbolizing power and good fortune in Chinese folklore. The “Ruyi” image frequently appears as a motif in Asian art, especially on Buddhism-related items such as shrines or low desks used by monks. Seldom used in metalwork, this motif was mainly engraved on wood.
The “EIGHT TRIGRAMS” motif.