A Pretty Vintage Japanese Decorative Fish Skin Chest


Origin: Probably Japanese
Period: Early / Mid Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1930-40   
Height: 11 inches
Width: 25 inches
Depth: 16 inches

In the oriental taste, having a hinged lid, the buff coloured fish skin rectangular carcass, having a top and front polychrome painted with swallows frolicking amongst a blossoming tree, the tree motifs continuing to the flanks and rear, with central circular locking plate engraved with Japanese script and rosettes, the sides with drop handles, the interior lined in royal blue.

The chest is in super structural order and the interior clean and tidy. The top does show heavy wear, probably having been in direct sunlight, the front and flanks are in much more vivid a condition though this appearance as a whole can work in favour in terms of the chests worn in vintage appearance. The actual fish skin is worn, commensurate with age, the stitching is in tact.

Similar to Walter Crane’s ‘Almond Blossom and Swallow of 1878’, this design, or simply the marriage of the swallow and the blossom tree, is an appealing one that gives off a distinctive tang of the Far East. For centuries fish leather has been used for practical and decorative purposes. With more than 6,000 years of history, the people from the Hezhen ethnic group in northeast China are known as “the fish-skin tribe” because their clothes were made from large fish skins. To become leather, fish skins are dried in the open air or tanned. Furniture making using fish skin was popular especially in France during the Art Deco period, a technique mostly lost between the two world wars when the material went out of fashion.

Wonderfully oriental, fantastically feminine.