Once common in the Qing dynasty, but now considered quite rare, these unique items served two purposes in ancient China. They came in many colors, shapes, and sizes with perhaps the most unique being the concave "pillow" shape as shown in the photo.
Housewives used these unique boxes to keep important family documents such as deeds and official certificates. Since typical Chinese houses were not locked and secured from intruders, the wife would use the box as a pillow at night to protect household valuables from theft. Boxes used by a middle-class family were wooden and rather plain, sometimes covered with ornamental paper, silk fabrics, or painted with designs directly on the wood.
The most beautiful and sought after document boxes were used by wealthy merchants while traveling. These boxes were often beautifully crafted with delicate designs of gold leaf and lacquers painted directly on the polished wood cases or on tightly stretched and padded leather coverings for added luxury and comfort.
The boxes were sturdily built to withstand daily use with many of them surviving for generations. An original document box in good condition and certified as an antique can be worth thousands of dollars to collectors. Document boxes were also used in Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.