A two-board top set into a mitered,
mortise and tenoned frame with separate
everted ends, over shaped spandrels
carved with entangled vines and leafy
fronds flanking three drawers above a
double door with removable stile
bordered by two outer panels, all above a
short apron carved with chilongs, with
baitong mounts, 34.3” x 78.3” x 21.1” — 87 x 199 x 53.5 cm.


As opposed to the smaller one-drawer and two-drawer variants, the present
example is a traditional three-drawer coffer table, or liansanchu. An
extended hidden compartment mid-section contributes to its larger size
compared to other three-drawer tables. The rare huanghuali body is
wonderfully crafted to demonstrate a handsome golden-honey colour and
distinct wood grain, characteristic of this precious Chinese hardwood.
Prototypical carvings of foliage and chilongs are found on the table’s two
spandrels and apron, and the doors are complete with baitong mounts.
As a staple of classical Ming-style furniture, the altar coffer is characterized
by its elegant shrine-like form as well as a set of drawers with a concealed
compartment underneath. This genre of cabinet was favoured
predominantly in Northern China, and used sometimes as a domestic altar
and more often as a storage space.

Unique to other huanghuali furniture, a fair percentage of coffer tables are
of mixed-wood type, composed of salvaged hardwood pieces or veneered
softwood cores. Such careful use of precious hardwoods is indicative of the
table’s persistent popularity towards the late Qing to Republican period,
during which time, tropical hardwoods like huanghuali became less
abundant when compared to the Ming Dynasty. The Ming-style altar coffer
reflects an enduring appreciation for Ming antiquity as well as the
craftsman’s ingenuity and skill.


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