Lacquer and Jappan Finishes

MPF Conservation is a full-service company specializing in conservation, restoration and preservation of furnishings of upholstered and non-upholstered objects, textiles and interior architectural elements in the Western United States; this page discusses lacquer and jappan finishes.

Unfortunately, we have no jappaned projects to share.

Right and below, the McLoughlin House
Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet.

Before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.

Marguerite McLoughlin’s Chinese Lacquer Sewing Cabinet, ca 1833

The cabinet is a wonderful example of ingenuity, shown at the very top of the page. It was meant to be stored in a relatively small space, but when needed could be taken apart for travel, for sewing, or other projects, into three parts:

  1. The cabinet (which could be removed and set on the floor) with the beautiful gilded cornice (also removable), and many drawers and cubbies;
  2. An independent sewing box/writing desk which could be removed and set on the table when the table was free of the cabinet;
  3. A table.

The issues of the Chinese lacquer Cabinet was fourfold:

  1. Exposure to excessive heat caused a dull burned appearance to the lacquer in places, called a thermochromatic shift (note the cloudy areas in the side view above left);
  2. Build-up of soot from the open fireplaces which heated the home covered the lacquer, and if left, would continue to degrade the finish;
  3. Several structural issues, which primarily consisted of hinge screw mounts and leg-to-table mortise and tenon connections.
  4. Damaged lacquer: fragmenting, tenting, and sloughing of lacquer, the latter of which had to be resecured to their ground and areas sealed to prevent further degradation.

For a full treatment report, visit our page on the cabinet below by clicking on “continue reading“:

How does one care for an antique lacquer piece?

  • Do not handle it unless you must! When you must, make sure your hands are clean and dry or wear cotton gloves.
  • Keep it out of direct light! Do not leave it in a room where there is a lot of direct light, and keep it away from windows. If possible, place it in a room where lots of bright lights are not on it all the time.
  • Do not clean it! If something gets on it take a very slightly damp cotton swab and rub gently to remove it. You should barely feel this dampness. When Kate cleans a piece, she has clean hands and distilled water in a bowl, and puts a drop on her palm, rubs it a bit then uses the cotton swab to collect that small amount of dampness.

Italian Cabinet circa 1890

Above and right, a project we have assessed but not begun, a family piece for a Portland native. The lacquer has faded considerably and needs to be cleaned.

For discussion on other types of finishes, visit the pages below: