Japanning describes the Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an imitation of Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

n lacquerwork, originally used on furniture
Furniture is the mass noun for the movable objects intended to support various human activities such as seating and sleeping in beds, to hold objects at a convenient height for work using horizontal surfaces above the ground, or to store things...

. The word originated in the 17th century.


Japanned is most often a heavy black lacquer, almost like enamel paint
Enamel paint
Enamel paint is paint that air dries to a hard, usually glossy, finish, used for coating surfaces that are outdoors or otherwise subject to hard wear or variations in temperature; it should not be confused with decorated objects in "painted enamel", where vitreous enamel is applied with brushes and...

. The European technique uses varnishes that have a resin base, similar to shellac
Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes , which are dissolved in ethyl alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish...

, applied in heat-dried layers which are then polished, to give a smooth glossy finish. It can also come in reds, greens and blues.

Originating in India, China and Japan as a decorative coating for pottery, it made its way into Europe by the 17th century. In the late 17th century, high European demand and rumours that higher quality pieces were not exported led to production starting in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. Its traditional form can be found using gold designs and pictorials, contrasting with the black base color.

Development in Europe

As the demand for all things japanned grew, the Italian technique for imitating Asian lacquerwork also spread.

The Art of Japanning developed in 18th century England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 at the court of King George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

, and Queen Charlotte
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the Queen consort of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George III...

. The art of applying paper cut outs to other items (decoupage) became very popular, especially the botanically inspired works of Mary Delaney.

Wolverhampton and Bilston

Wolverhampton is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands, England. For Eurostat purposes Walsall and Wolverhampton is a NUTS 3 region and is one of five boroughs or unitary districts that comprise the "West Midlands" NUTS 2 region...

 and Bilston
Bilston is a town in the English county of West Midlands, situated in the southeastern corner of the City of Wolverhampton. Three wards of Wolverhampton City Council cover the town: Bilston East and Bilston North, which almost entirely comprise parts of the historic Borough of Bilston, and...

 were important centres for the manufacture of japanned ware. Trade directories for 1818 list 20 firms of japanners in Wolverhampton and 15 in Bilston. According to Samuel Timmins’ book Birmingham and the Midland Hardware District, published in 1866, there were 2000 people employed in the japanning and tin-plate industries in Wolverhampton and Bilston at the time. Japanning firms ranged in size from small family workshops, which often adjoined the proprietor’s home, to a few large factories employing over 250 people. In the larger workshops, the production of tin plate and papier-mâché articles and the japanning process all took place under one roof, while small workshops tended to carry out only one or two of the trades, usually tin-plate working and japanning.

At the height of its popularity, richly decorated japanned ware was to be seen in every middle class home, but from the mid-19th century this began to change. By the 1880s, the japanning and tin-plate industries were in decline. This was due partly to changes in fashion and taste and partly due to the development of electroplating. In response, makers of japanned ware began to focus on more utilitarian items, including japanned cash boxes. Many turned to other trades, including enamelling, electroplating and the manufacture of copper and brass coal scuttles, fire screens and kettles. By the 1920s, the West Midlands
West Midlands (region)
The West Midlands is an official region of England, covering the western half of the area traditionally known as the Midlands. It contains the second most populous British city, Birmingham, and the larger West Midlands conurbation, which includes the city of Wolverhampton and large towns of Dudley,...

’ decorative japanned ware industry had largely died out. Many firms began to supply japanned metal to the newly established bicycle and motor vehicle industries, and some even made their own bicycles. The most successful of these was John Marston
John Marston (businessman)
John Marston was a successful Victorian bicycle, motorcycle and car manufacturer and founder of the Sunbeam company of Wolverhampton. He company was also one of the country's largest manufacturers of japanware and he was responsible for building 'Seagull' outboard engines for marine use and also...

, whose japanning factory began making bicycles in 1887. The bicycle manufacturing part of the business quickly became more successful than the production of decorative japanned ware, and Marston’s factory was renamed the Sunbeam Cycle Works.

Japanned metal

Ironware was japanned black, for decorative reasons. It was also used to render it rustproof, suitable for carrying water. A signifiant industry developed at Pontypool
Pontypool is a town of approximately 36,000 people in the county borough of Torfaen, within the historic boundaries of Monmouthshire in South Wales....

 and Usk
Usk is a small town in Monmouthshire, Wales, situated 10 miles northeast of Newport.The River Usk flows through the town and is spanned by an ancient, arched stone bridge at the western entrance to the town. A castle above the town overlooks the ancient Anglo-Welsh border crossing - the river can...

, shortly before tinplate began to be made in the area. Japanned ware was being also made at Bilston by 1719 and later elsewhere in the area.


In the 19th and 20th centuries, this lacquering technique evolved into the handicraft
Handicraft, more precisely expressed as artisanic handicraft, sometimes also called artisanry, is a type of work where useful and decorative devices are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools. It is a traditional main sector of craft. Usually the term is applied to traditional means...

 of decoupage
Decoupage is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it in combination with special paint effects, gold leaf and so on. Commonly an object like a small box or an item of furniture is covered by cutouts from magazines or from purpose-manufactured papers...

. Decoupage focuses less on furniture and more on temporary boxes and toiletry containers.

The technique was also developed to protect wood and later industrial metal objects such as hand planes and builders' hardware. Later, it was as an insulating film on transformer laminations
A transformer is a device that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors—the transformer's coils. A varying current in the first or primary winding creates a varying magnetic flux in the transformer's core and thus a varying magnetic field...

. It was also used as the substrate for the tintype
Tintype, also melainotype and ferrotype, is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a sheet of iron metal that is blackened by painting, lacquering or enamelling and is used as a support for a collodion photographic emulsion....

photographic process.
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