Place of Origin: KOREA
Date: Choson Dynasty (18th - 19th Century)
This is a fine example of a Korean eating set known as a eunjangdo. Eunjangdo usually employ silver as their primary material and are worn by both men and women, sometimes with chopsticks – much like the eating knives from China which feature in this exhibition.
The knives were carried for both protection and decoration, and this example serves both purposes well. The simple, functional blade is typical for these knives, being straight with a single cutting edge, while the silver hilt fulfils the more ornamental part of the knife’s role, having been decorated using a Korean technique known as kum-bu, whereby pure gold foil is fused onto the surface of a finished silver object. In this case, the gold has been applied to an engraved crescent moon, a crane in flight, and a smiling deer atop tufts of grass.
The scabbard is decorated en suite with the hilt and divided into two sections: the first depicts another crane in flight (one of the Ten Symbols of Longevity in Korean art and folklore), whilst the lower section shows a stag in repose which mirrors the calmness of the doe above – a symbol of the happiness and fidelity in marriage that the eunjangdo itself also represented. The reverse side of the scabbard is engraved with scrolling floral patterns and a lotus in bloom at the centre. A loop for suspension is attached to the hexagonal throat-piece, above which a pair of chopsticks are inserted.
The chopsticks are made of silver, since “in addition to being elegant, silver was supposed to detect poison in food.” When silver reacts with sulphur-based compounds, it tarnishes. Forms of arsenic commonly used at the time usually contained such sulphides. The belief held that if the owner picked up their food with the chopsticks and saw the metal turn black, they knew that the food was best left alone!
 Debbi Kent & Joan Suwalsky, 100 Thimbles in a Box: The Spirit and Beauty of Korean Handicrafts, published by Seoul Selection, Irvine USA, 2014.
 Lois N. Magner, “The History and Culture of Food and Drink in Asia: Korea” in Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Coneè, eds., The Cambridge World History of Food: Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 1186 (article pp. 1183-1193).