So thousands of people have checked out my post on my grandmother’s camphor chest. Well, hundreds of people. Ah, dozens. Never mind. But everyone’s been looking at the photos of the camphor chest. This got me thinking – what’s so interesting about camphor chests? Is my grandmother’s one something special?
I decided to look into what the heck camphor chests were used for. In the 18th and 19th centuries, camphor chests were used to carry tea, silks and porcelain from China to European destinations, mainly London, and also to America. Women saw the beauty of the chests and displayed them in living rooms. They were made from camphor wood, a natural repellent against moths and wood boring insects. Camphor also has a wonderful, fresh scent. Brass brackets usually adorned the corners of the chests and the chest’s clasp was also usually of brass.
Prior to the sea trade, Chinese families used camphor chests to store everything from blankets, clothes and linen to food and personal papers. Chests were often stacked one on top of the other to save space. Sometimes the chests were made of plain, solid camphor wood but, more often, ornate Chinese carvings of dragons, ships, people and animals decorated the chests.
My grandmother’s chest is intricately decorated with ships and dragons. To me, it tells the story of some sea dragon attacking a flotilla of Chinese vessels or maybe it’s actually protecting the flotilla. I have no idea if the chest is from China, Hong Kong or some other country in Asia. So I took more photos in case someone out there is an expert and can tell me more.
My grandmother used to keep the camphor chest in the master bedroom but my mother had it in the hallway of my childhood home. She used to put a bowl of flowers on top of it. I have it in the bedroom and it’s stuffed full of my mother’s Marghab. The chest has a drawer that sits at the top level – I guess to hold smaller items.