The real deal: Looking back a few hundred years at an authentic chinese alter table

This enormous solid wood console (over two meters) which probably dates back to the Ming Dynasty, originally made its home in a temple in Shanxi province before being stumbled upon by us in the far off, dusty dirty corners of the antiques trade. Known in Chinese as a “Gong An,” or roughly a”temple table” the name alludes to its former use and one can’t help but imagine monks keeping quarters with this table. Modestly estimated to be approximately 300 years old, there are several clues to look that allude to its age starting with the wood below the hardware worn to the bone from endless contact over the years.

Note: All images are clickable.

A common feature on many genuine antiques is defacement from the cultural revolution or “Wénhuà Dà Gémìng,” a period of great political and social turmoil in China’s recent history. From roughly 1966 to 1976 Mao Zedong launched a massive campaign to destroy the “four olds”, namely old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. During this time, Red Guards burned antique books, ransacked architecture, shattered old porcelain and destroyed or defaced carvings and even whole pieces of furniture. On the table below, the faces have been rudely hacked away.


ming dynasty table

The “chao tou” or wing-like swooping edges of the table are carved from a single large log with no visual seams or joints; a practice rarely used in contemporary times.

chinese alter table with up turned edge

chao tou edge of a ming dynasty console table

A second clue to its age and origin is the thin layer or coarse horse hair mesh, between the wood and the lacquer. Not quite refined enough to be considered fabric, this rough layer of hair allows the wood below some freedom to expand and contract according the climate and humidity without cracking the lacquer above.

chinese lacquers horsehair

And then there is the original finish, crackled beautifully through the endless passing of time.

original chinese crackled lacquer

original chinese crackled lacquer patina

original chinese lacquer patina sample

original chinese lacquer patina sample

original chinese lacquer patina sample

Needless to say, this amazing piece of furniture will not be showing up on ebay anytime soon.

Chinese carving detail

chinese drawer on a antique console table



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5 Comment

  1. Do you think anyone stands a chance of getting this table out of China?

    It’s simply magnificent!

  2. Roger says:

    Hard to say… Sometimes they seem to not pay much attention to furniture… Could be worth a try.

  3. Mark says:

    China is such an extraodinary, treasure-trove.

  4. Ian says:

    I suspect this exceptional altar table might be allowed out but I am having awful problems exporting stone items – even new pieces which are viewed with ‘great caution’ by customs.

  5. Roger says:

    This piece (see link) left already without any problems though maybe it was just luck:

    Yes, they are really getting picky about stone. Its not the first time I have had someone tell me this. We kind of avoid any decent stone for that reason though smaller pieces seem a little easier. Sometimes its just plain silly – I have had customs tell me a brand new stone item from the Panjiayuan market was antique.

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