The “Morijang“, 머릿장 in Korean, is a unique piece of furniture found in the Korean furniture collection. It likely emerged during the 18th or early 19th century and is commonly referred to as the headside chest in English.
Determining the age of furniture can be a complex process, often hindered by a lack of information and English-language studies. Several key parameters are required to assess the origin of the furniture with varying degrees of precision.
Materials, such as wood and metal components, as well as the item’s shape and dimensions, are crucial elements for this analysis.
Examining numerous pieces of furniture from various collections, both in Korea and abroad, has enabled us to formulate specific hypotheses. In this regard, the study of the “Morijang” proves to be particularly intriguing.
Early period – Late 18th to mid 19th centuries.
The Morijang was a small cabinet designed to be placed beside the bed in a room. The oldest pieces we have discovered date back to the late 18th and mid-19th centuries, with most of them belonging to the Collection of the National Museum of Korea. On average, these cabinets have dimensions of H. 50-70cm, W. 85-95cm, and D. 35-38cm.
Many of these cabinets were constructed using a combination of frames and panels. The frames were typically quite narrow, measuring around 1cm in width. These dark-colored pieces of furniture often lacked excessive decorations and were primarily intended for use in men’s quarters. Prized woods like Zelkova were commonly used in their construction. When fittings were present, they were typically robust and made from yellow brass.
Due to these characteristics, we believe that this type of furniture was not exclusively used for storing clothing but also for books, documents, and valuable items. The top plate, typically made from a single piece of wood, was aligned at right angles with the side panels. Three small drawers were positioned beneath the top plate, and a double door was installed in the center of the chest. In some instances, chests were elevated on straight legs. Additionally, in certain cases, the top panel had both sides raised to prevent objects placed on it, such as scrolls, from rolling off.
Mid period – Mid 19th to early 20th centuries.
By the end of the 19th century, furniture production increased significantly in response to rising demand. The design of the Morijang became somewhat standardized, with a few design modifications. The dimensions remained largely consistent, but the depth increased to 42-45cm. The furniture continued to be manufactured using the same framework of frames and panels, but the frames were widened to 2-2.5cm, which reduced the level of skill required for their construction.
On most pieces, the top plate protrudes, and the corners are frequently reinforced with metal corner plates. The hinges, which are more numerous, are crafted from white or yellow brass and feature square or circular patterns.
Late period 20th century.
The dimensions of the furniture are as follows: H. 80-85cm, W. 87-90cm, D. 45cm. All the models share a similar construction, featuring three to four small top drawers and a double door in the middle front. The top of the chest is now crafted with a thinner panel inserted into a frame. The furniture is supported by convex cabriole legs. White or yellow brass metalwork is used for both structural and decorative purposes, often adorned with motifs such as bats and butterflies.
During the peak of the trade in the mid to late 20th century, some restored pieces were rebuilt from “Nong.”
As each part of the “Nong” had a similar design, dealers would separate them to create two “Morijang” pieces, which were easier to sell and offered better profits. Only an expert’s trained eye could discern the transformation.