Japanning Resources

‘Japanning’ refers to European efforts to create finishes that resemble East Asian and Indian lacquer and decoration. It was completely cultural appropriation for its day, but in their efforts to recreate a varnish they couldn't make, they created something new as well.

I've collected a list of books, and sometimes their contents, here for sharing. If you want to try things out, I've listed materials suppliers at the end. My focus is on japanning wood with shellac varnishes, but I'll include other meanings of japanning over time.

(Yes, right now this is English-language-centric. I hope to expand well beyond that!)

Original Texts

Artlove, Mrs. The ART OF Japanning, Varnishing, Pollishing, AND Gilding, BEING A COLLECTION of very Plain DIRECTIONS and RECEIPTS. London: T. Warner, 1730. (Plain text.)

Bonanni, Filippo. Techniques of Chinese Lacquer: The Classic Eighteenth-Century Treatise on Asian Varnish. Translation and introduction by Flavia Perugini. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, 2009. (Original in Italian, 1720.)

Brown, William Norman. Handbook on Japanning, 2nd Edition. London: Scott, Greenwood, and Son, 1913. (Gutenberg edition.)

Dossie, Robert. The Handmaid to the Arts. London: J. Nourse, 1758. (Original or partial plain text.)

Merrifield, Mary P. Original Treatises, Dating from the XIIth to the XVIIIth Centuries, on the Arts of Painting. London: J. Murray, 1849. (Original or fragments of shellac-related text.)

Salmon, William. Polygraphice: Or, The Arts of Drawing, Engraving, Etching, Limning, Painting, Vernishing, Japaning, Gilding, &c. Book 11, new to the Eighth Edition. London: A. & J. Churchill, 1701. (Original or plain text.)

Siddons, George A. The Cabinet Maker's Guide, or, Rules and Instructions in the art of Varnishing, Dying, Staining, Japanning, Polishing, Lackering, and Beautifying Wood, Ivory, Tortoiseshell, & Metal. Fifth Edition. London: Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, 1837. (Original or partial plain text.)

Stalker, John, and Parker, Richard. A TREATISE OF JAPANING AND VARNISHING, Being a compleat Discovery of those Arts WITH The best way of making all sorts of VARNISH for JAPAN, WOOD, PRINTS, or PICTURES. London: 1688. (Original, or plain text.)

The Method of Learning to Draw in Perspective Made easy and fully explained. As also, The Art of Painting upon Glass, and Drawing in Crayons, with Receipts for making them after the French and Italian Manner. Likewise, A New and Curious Method of Japaning, either upon Glass, Wood, or any Metal, so as to imitate China; and to make black or gilt Japan-Ware, as Beautiful and Light as any brought from the East-Indies; with proper Directions for making the hardest and most transparent Varnishes. And Particularly the Way to cast Amber in any Shape. Chiefly from the MSS of the Great Mr BOYLE. London: J. Peele, 1732. (Partial plain text.)

Watin, Jean-Félix. L'Art de Faire et D'employer le Vernis, ou, L'art du vernisseur, auquel on a joint ceux du peintre et du doreur. Paris, Quillau, 1772. (Original.)

Modern Commentary

Azuero, Katja Tovar. "The development of English black japanning 1620-1820." Conservation Journal, Spring 2006 Issue 52. (Full article.)

Blake, J. P. and Reveirs-Hopkins, A. E. Little Books About Old Furniture: English Furniture. The Period of Queen Anne. London: William Heinemann, 1911.

Huth, Hans. Lacquer of the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.

Lacquer: An International History and Illustrated Survey. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1984.

Le Hô, Anne-Solenn, et al. "Eighteenth-century lacquer art in Paris: green japanned panels from a Chinese cabinet in the duke of Richelieu's townhouse". Lisbon: ICOM-CC, 2011. (Full article.)

Webb, Marianne. Recreating Western Lacquer using Historic Recipes. Mariannewebb.com, 2013.

Williams, Donald C. "The Art of Japanning", American Period Furniture, December 2009, p. 4-11.

Williams, Donald C. Traditional Japanning Techniques. Cincinnati: F+W Media, Inc. 2016. (Sample.)

Broader Varnishing Information

Abū al-Faz̤l ibn Mubārak. Āʼīn-i Akbarī. 1597. Three volumes, translated by H. Blochmann and H. S. Jarrett. (Excerpts and notes on lac.)

Cennini, Cennino. (Danel V. Thompson, Jr., trans.) The Craftsman's Handbook: The Italian "Il Libro dell'Arte." New York: Dover, 1933.

Cennini, Cennino. (Lara Broecke, trans.) Cennino Cennini's Il Libro dell'Arte: A new English translation and commentary with Italian transcription. New York: Dover, 1933.

Hammerl, Josef and Reiner. Violin Varnishes: Interesting information on resins and basic materials for violin varnish and advice on varnishing. Fourth Edition. Baiersdorf: Hammerl, [no date].

Langenheim, Jean H. Plant Resins: Chemistry, Evolution, Ecology, Ethnobotany. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2003.

Orta, Garcia de. Colloquies on the simples & drugs of India. (Clements R. Markham, trans.) London: Henry Sotheran and Co, 1913. Originally published in 1563. (Original.)

Shepherd, Stephen A. Shellac, Linseed Oil, & Paint: Traditional 19th Century Woodwork Finishes. Great Salt Lake City, Utah: Full Chisel Press, 2011.

Shepherd, Stephen A. Hide Glue - Traditional & Practical Applications. Great Salt Lake City, Utah: Full Chisel Press, 2009.

Tingry, Pierre-François. Traité Théorique et Pratique sur L'art de Faire et D'appliquer les Vernis; sur les différens genres de peinture par impression et en décoration, ainsi que sur les couleurs simples et composées. Geneva: G. J. Manget, 1803. (Original.)

Tingry, Pierre-François. The Painter's and Varnisher's Guide, or, A Treatise, Both in Theory and in Practice, on the Art of Making and Applying Varnishes, on the Different Kinds of Painting; and on the Method of Preparing Colours Both Simple and Compound. London: G. Kearsley, 1804. (Original.)

Williams, Donald C. Creating Historic Furniture Finishes. Cincinnati: F+W Media, Inc. 2016. (Sample.)

Retail Sources of Specialty Materials

Gilded Planet

For gilding supplies, whiting, and glue.

Kremer Pigments

For pigments, binders, whiting, shellac, gilding supplies, and other varnish ingredients. Includes many historic materials, and tools and materials for conservators.

Lee Valley Tools

For shellac, glues, and other finishing supplies.

Natural Pigments

For pigments, binders, whiting, and gilding supplies.


For all varieties of shellac, as well as polishing supplies.


For pigments, whiting, and gilding supplies.


For gilding, shellac, glues, and binders.

Tools for Working Wood

For shellac, hide glue, and other finishing supplies.

Utrecht Art Supplies

For pigments, whiting, and oil varnish and painting supplies.