Object: Smoking set

E/1965/9/2
Smoking set
Korea
ca. 1950s
Materials: Wood, brass, mother of pearl

This smoking set features an image of the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, in what is now Seoul, South Korea on the lid. This historic building was constructed in 1412 by King Taejong of the Joseon Dynasty. Now a national landmark of Korea, the pavilion was originally used as the state banquet hall and was part of the larger Gyeongbokgung Palace complex. The Gyeongbokgung, meaning “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven,” was the largest of the Five Grand Palaces build by the Joseon Dynasty in Korea.

The Joseon Dynasty ruled over the united Korean Peninsula from 1392 until the Japanese Occupation of Korea in 1910. This was the last royal dynasty of Korea and was known for its strong Confucian ideals, and for the development of science, literature and technology in Korea. This dynasty, though often troubled by wars and conflict, presided over a period of great cultural growth. The Korean tea ceremony was codified, and many gardens and palaces were built during this period.

The interior of the box contains a small brass bowl, that was used as an ashtray and a small compartment to store cigarettes, matches or other small items. While some of the image is painted, most of the decoration is inlaid mother of pearl. Mother of pearl is an iridescent blend of minerals, also known as nacre, that is produced by oysters and other mollusks. This substance is used to coat the inside of the mollusk’s shell and protects their bodies from parasites and foreign objects. Nacre is the same type of material that forms pearls. Below you will find a short video that explains how pearls are formed in oysters. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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