This form of cabinet was very popular in the Ming period, particularly in Northern China. The term 'altar coffer' is a Western label with no Chinese precedent, resulting from old photographs showing them used as family altars. Larger versions can still be found in temples and monastaries. However, typical of Chinese furniture, they were not limited to this use and could be used to store domestic objects.
Compare a similarly proportioned three-drawer altar coffer, without shaped molding, sold in these rooms, Important Chinese Furniture, Formerly The Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture Collection, 19 September 1996, lot 63. See, also, a very similar three-drawer coffer with everted ends illustrated by Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, Hong Kong, 1990, vol. II, p. 169, E12. For a discussion and history of the altar coffer form, see ibid., vol. I, p. 92, and C. Evarts, "The Enignmatic Altar Coffer," Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Autumn 1994, p. 29-44.