Lacquering became every craftsmans delight to work with. It was first practiced in the Far East for many centuries. Much furniture made in England in the early 1700's was ornamented with this pseudo-oriental lacquer. Their demands gave many imitators a chance to produce fake product to meet the market demand.
Lacquering was practiced in the Far East for many centuries before it was introduced into Europe. Chinese and Japanese craftsmen decorated furniture by painting it carefully with many coatings of the sap of a locally grown tree, and then after it had been well smoothed it was painted with designs in gold and colors.
Some of this work was brought to England at the end of the seventeenth century, and became popular enough to be imitated as closely as possible by both professional and amateur artists, and much furniture made in England in the early 1700's was ornamented with this pseudo-oriental lacquer. In addition, pieces of English furniture were sent out to the East to be embellished in the authentic manner by local craftsmen, and quantities of cabinets and other furnishings of Far Eastern manufacture were sent to all countries of Europe.
In addition to the lacquer just described, in which the smoothed surface was painted upon, often with small areas raised to emphasize details of the pattern, there was another type in which the designs were cut and then colored.
The finished article showed a smooth black panel into which were incised colored designs about one eighth of an inch deep. This was called 'Bantam' or 'Coromahdel lacquer, and was made often in the form of large folding screens. Some of them were of as many as twelve leaves, each about two feet wide and eight feet high. Occasionally, on arrival in Europe they were cut up regardless of their pattern to make cabinets or other pieces of furniture.
Although the principal interest in lacquered furniture was at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it remained fashionable throughout the Georgian period and pieces were made at all dates. A considerable quantity of plain old furniture was lacquered in the 1920's when there was a revived fashion for it.
Chairs and tables, tea-caddies and trays, made both of wood and of papier-mache, were painted with a black lacquer and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and then gilt during the 185O's. Some of these pieces were also painted with attractive panels in oil colors. Black is the most common ground colour of lacquer, but pieces, in which the ground is red, blue, green, yellow, or white, are known. The two last named are the rarest and the most valuable.
The finish applied to antique furniture when it was made was to rub it down with fine abrasives until it was as smooth as possible, apply linseed oil or a mixture of beeswax and turpentine and continue to rub until the desired gloss was produced. This made a hardwearing surface, especially when the process was continued occasionally in the home.
About 1820, came the process known as 'French polishing', in which shellac varnish is applied to the furniture by means of a 'rubber' made of linen wrapped round cotton-wool. A French-polished surface is not as hardwearing as the original method; it is damaged easily, but is much easier to apply and quickly came into general use. In the course of time, most old furniture has been repolished by this more modern method, and it is very rare indeed to find an untouched piece with its original surface.
During the 1850, furniture made of woods were painted with a black lacquer and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and then gilt. Yellow and white lacquers are the rarest and the most valuable.
Polishing made a hardwearing surface become glossy when rubbed by applying linseed oil or a mixture of beeswax and turpentine. These lacquering and polishing gives the furniture gloss and they looks good as well.