I am enclosing pictures of what I have learned is a panel from a Chinese opium bed. I have no idea how old it may be, but it is 25 inches high by 18 inches wide and 2 inches deep. I would like to know more about its age and value.
Dear Helaine and Joe:
I am enclosing pictures of what I have learned is a panel from a Chinese opium bed. I have no idea how old it may be, but it is 25 inches high by 18 inches wide and 2 inches deep. It is three-dimensional and carved from one piece of wood. I would like to know more about its age and value. Thank you. -- B.G., Auburn, N.Y.
The idea that this might be a panel from a Chinese opium bed is very romantic (in an odd sort of way). But we feel it is actually something else -- maybe a panel from another type of Chinese bed, which happens to be even more romantic.
During the 19th century, opium was a despised vice that, to a certain extent, was destroying Chinese culture and economy. It was a terrible habit that was not practiced in public but was confined to dark basements and secret rooms behind bars and brothels.
We are not experts on the subject, but our research tends to indicate that real "opium beds" used in real "opium dens" were more like benches than a typical Chinese-style bed. They were low, and in the images we have seen, had a low gallery surrounding three sides. It is unlikely that this panel would have been part of one of these pieces of furniture.
Instead, this could always have been just an attractive wall decoration, or it could have adorned a Chinese-style late-19th- or early-20th-century "marriage bed." Checking auction catalogs, we find that these beds, which are often elaborately enclosed affairs decorated with fancy panels, such as this one, are often referred to -- rightly or wrongly -- as being "marriage/opium beds."
Chinese marriage beds, however, are very special pieces of furniture that have a lot of tradition woven into their history. The marriage bed and its linens, for example, must be new and are presented to the engaged couple by the groom's family. The placement of the marriage bed usually occurs one or two weeks before the wedding on an auspicious date often chosen by a feng shui master.
After the bed is installed, no adult may sit or sleep on it alone before the wedding because it might bring bad luck to the bridal couple. Male children are allowed to sit and play in the confines of the cavelike bed as a way to ensure the new couple will be fertile with male offspring.
It is thought that sleeping alone on the new bed could cause death to either the bride or groom, so if the groom sleeps on the new bed before the wedding, he must do so with a companion -- a young boy. As wishes for good luck, happiness, fertility and other good fortune, items such as tangerines and oranges (symbols of "gold") are placed on the bed, along with a piece of charcoal wrapped in red paper with a double "happiness" symbol -- also for good fortune. Dried red dates or persimmons are placed there to bless the union with sweetness.
The new bride and groom might also find magnolia leaves (a harmonious marriage) or dried lotus seeds or pomegranate leaves for abundance of offspring. A number of other items might be found, including red-wrapped packets of money.
The particular panel in today's question is somewhat larger than most found and appears to be very well carved. It has an insurance-replacement value in the range of $750 to $1,000.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself.” Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at email@example.com.