Vintage and Antique Lacquerware

In today's instant-gratification culture, it's difficult to imagine the patience required to make a piece of lacquerware. Taking its name from the lacquer tree, lacquerware objects such as boxes, vases, and pieces of furniture are made from applying layer upon layer of painstakingly treated lacquer sap to a base of cloth or wood. Once applied by brush or immersion, the sap, which is thinned with tung oil and colored with minerals such as cinnabar, is allowed to dry in the dark until hard, at which point another layer is applied, followed by another and then another. This tedious, exacting process is usually repeated scores of times, sometimes hundreds.

Lacquerware is generally thought to have originated in China during the Han period (206 BC to 220 AD), but it was not until the 14th century at the beginning of the Ming dynasty that carved lacquerware become common. In particular, lacquerware cups and vases that had been tinted red by cinnabar were deeply carved. Other lacquerware pieces, from modest trays to room-dividing screens, were inlaid with mother of pearl, ivory, and other materials to produce elaborate scenes against a polished black backdrop.

Beginning in the 16th-century, the lacquerware exported from China was known as Coromandel, so named for the coastline of southeastern India where ships bearing this cargo often docked before heading around the Cape of Good Hope en route to Europe. One of the most popular applications of this type of lacquerware was the screen, so much so that many pieces today are often described as Coromandel screens.

Lacquerware techniques didn't make their way to Japan until the 8th century. There, artisans perfected the practice of sprinkling gold and other pigment-producing materials into the wet lacquer, a technique known as maki-e. In fact, gold was a favorite companion for lacquer among Japanese artisans, who used the precious metal in its solid and ground forms, sometimes polishing it until it glowed, other times using it in relief to give a lacquerware item sculptural properties and dimension. If gold was a favorite metal, small containers called inro were a favorite form. These flask-like boxes with multiple compartments were carried by Japanese men, usually hung from a sash and secured by a piece of netsuke.

By the 17th century, lacquerware was so commonly associated with Japan that the term "japanning" was coined by Europeans to describe just about any piece of furniture or decorative household item that was shiny. Unlike true lacquerware, though, japanned pieces produced in Europe were usually made of wood that had been coated with only a layer or two of shellac.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Fine Antique Chinese Red Lacquer Gilt Carved Hardwood Panel Wonderful Detailing!Chinese Antique Lacquered Wood Figure Of Immortal /court Official Very Fine QingAntique Chinese Footed Lacquer Scenic Sewing Box Chest Bone Utensils Tools 14x10Japanese Hardwood And Lacquer Stand For A Miyao BronzeTl4: Vintage Japanese Lacquered Wooden Writing Box With Signed Wooden Box, CraneTh6: Vintage Japanese Wooden Incense Case, Kogo Of Wakasa Lacquer WareAntique Chinese 19th Century Lacquer Wood Sticks Hand Painted Fan Japanese Black & Gold Maki-e Lacquer Trinket Jewellery Ornate Flower Box Japanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Chu-natsume Bell-ringing Cricket Design (a12)Japanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy O-natsume W/ Design In Maki-e."wisteria" (a7)Japan Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Chu-natsume W/ Design In Makie."green Maple" M31To9: Vintage Japanese Lacquered Wooden Sake Cup, Excellent Gold MakieTo1 Antique Japanese Lacquered Wooden Sake Cup, Makie, 19c, Dia. 6.2", Plum Tree41879# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Natsume (tea Caddy) / Lacquer / Makie / Bamboo A Pair Of Chinese Carved Lacquer Rope Twist Circular BoxesJapanese Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy Chrysanthemum Design Long-natsume (a12)Japanese Traditional Lacquer Wooden Tea Caddy W/ Design In Makie."camellia"(m31)41864# Japanese Lacquer Ware / Rice Tub / Chisel Carving41863# Japanese Tea Ceremony / Kashiki (sweets Container) / Vermillion LacquerChina Exquisite Hand-carved Landscape Carving Lacquerware Pen HolderFine Antique Japanese Maki-e Lacquer Silver Mounts Chest Of Drawers Signed MeijiJapanese Antique Menpo Yoroi Armor Iron Base Red Lacquer Edo Era SamuraiGorgeous Antique Chinese Gold Lacquer Hand Painted Court Figural Scene Brise FanFine Antique Chinese Gold Lacquer Painted 100 Faces Figural Court Scene FanPainted Chinese Lacquer Inro Hallmarked Silver Stone Ojimi Beads Gilt BuckleAntique Old Chinese Carved Lacquerware Box Qianlong Mark S17Fine Antique Chinese Gold Lacquer Hand Embroidered Embroidery Silk Fan B058: Japanese Old Lacquer Ware Tobacco Case With Very Good Makie Of Crab Japanese Antique Buddhist Altar Stand "goeido-type" Lacquer Gold Leaf Fittings B044: Japanese Cultural Lacquer Ware Tray Isho-bon With Fantastic Tsuikoku WorkF6105: Japanese Lacquer Ware Wooden Tray/plate Senchabon 5pcs, W/boxAnt Hardwood Gilt Lacquer Inlaid Mop Japanese Meiji Showa Poss Chinese Shelf Superb Mid 19thc Chinese Lacquered Tea Caddy With Original Pewter Liners C1840s B054: Japanese Lacquer Ware Decorative Stand With Good Flower DesignTh5: Japanese High-class Lacquered Wooden Tea Caddy, GoldAntique Japanese 19th Century Lacquered Inro B049: Japanese Old Lacquer Ware Tea Container Natsume With Kodaiji Makie, Box B080: Japanese Lacquerware Traditional Sake Set "o-toso" Spiced Sake With MakieAntique Burma Top High Aged Used Wood Red Lacquer Buddha Shrine FigureF5974:japanese Wooden Lacquer Ware Inkstone Case Box Calligraphy ToolJapanese Antique Buddhist Altar Small Stand 2 Item Sets Wood Lacquer Gold Leaf Japanese Antique Buddhist Altar Stand 2 Item Sets Wood Lacquer Gold Leaf Antique Chinese Kangxi C1700 Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Lacquer Dish Figures LandscaOriental Vintage Delicate Lacquer Hand-carved Dragon Vase G437F6190: Japanese Wooden Lacquer Ware Shapely Kashiki Dessert Bowl/dishF6407: Japanese Wooden Paulownia Flower Gold Lacquer Pattern Big Flower VaseF6611: Japanese Plastics Paulownia Gold Lacquer Pattern Tea Caddy Natsume 5pcsF6151:japanese Wooden Paulownia Bird Flower Gold Lacquer Pattern Flower VaseRare Antique Chinese Gold Lacquer Hand Painted Figural Scene Asymmetrical FanAntique Japanese Lacquer Cup With Crane & Peony 1900-15 Handpainted #4201cTn4: Vintage Japanese Lacquered Wooden Tray, Gold Makie, Samurai EmblemTo8: Vintage Japanese Lacquered Woodcarving Incense Case, Kogo, Kamakura-bori B062: Japanese Old Lacquer Ware Dinner Tray With Good Bird-and-flower Makie Chinese Export Early 19th Century Lacquered Glove BoxAntique Wood Chinese Lacquer Wedding Trinket Box Basket Cherubs Minokawa OctagonJapanese Vintage Wooden Lacquered Buddhist Box W/sutra Book/ Nice Crest/ 4591F1073:japanese Wooden Lacquer Ware Shapely Food Boxes Jubako Lunch Box W/boxAntique Japanese Lacquered Wooden Table Cabinet Jewelry BoxF6651:japanese Wooden House Bird Gold Lacquer Pattern Soup Bowl/dish 5pcsF6211: Japanese Wooden Tray/plate Flower Gold Lacquer Pattern