With the increasing trade between Europe and Asia in the 1600's, Europeans got their first exposure to many Asian craft forms previously unknown in the West. Rich Europeans went wild! They loved the Asian ceramics, woodcarving and metalworks brought-home by merchants—and they spent big money expanding their collections. One of these "new" crafts was lacquerware. Europeans couldn't quite figure-out how to duplicate the Asian laquer process (in part because the necessary tree sap did not grow in Europe). Furthermore, European collectors began to suspect that Asian lacquer craftsmen were holding-back their very best pieces for their domestic collectors (which is not surprising). So, in the 17th Century, the Italians developed a faux laquerware which came to be called "Japanning." It did not use the proper Asian tree sap, but another black resin-varnish (like shellac) which could be applied in layers, heated to set, and polished . Over the centuries, especially as "Orientalism" grew in popularity in the West, this blackened "lacquer-like" effect became very fashionable, especially on metals where an "Oriental" aesthetic was desired. While the term "Japanning" remained common in Europe, collectors in America tended to classify Japanned items as "toleware." In time, other lacquer-like black finishes were developed which were simpler to apply (and they became popular).
These bronze-clad bookends, made in the 1920's, enjoy a beautifully-modeled three dimensional form. They are dressed in a black "Japanned" type finish. If you'd like them to "put their heads to work" (holding-up your books), click on the photo above to learn more about them.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248