The value of original lacquer work depends upon the colour of the ground, its quality, and the perfection of the drawing and execution of the ornament. Apart from the polychromatic incised lacquer, the rarest ground colours are the blue, yellow and red. The pale blue is not so rare and is generally worthless; the valuable colour is the deep cobalt blue, nearly always laid in a stippled tone on an undercoating of white or silver. This is the rarest ground of all, and is always found associated with polychrome ornament of fine execution. The yellow, buff or biscuit grounds are also very exceptional and the ornament here is also nearly always polychromatic. Red lacquer, to be valuable, should be of a deep sealing-wax tint, and the ornament should be sharp in modelling, well executed and gilded. Of the other varieties black is the most common, and green, - unless of fine colour, - is also frequently met with. Tortoise-shell grounds are generally of poor quality, and are rarely found other than on the long cases of " Grandfather " clocks. Silvered grounds are exceptional in genuine pieces, although " fakes " abound. It cannot be too deeply impressed on the collector that lacquer-work should have a well-prepared glossy ground. A painted ground is not lacquer at all. Common work is mere rubbish, in spite of any antiquity, and should be rejected. Antique furniture has a peculiar charm when the quality is good, no matter how unostentatious the example, and it is this quality which should be sought for. A simple piece, well finished, and in its original condition, will be more esteemed, after a year or two of close association, than elaborate examples of doubtful quality. The former improves on acquaintance; one appreciates fine cabinet-making and delicacy of line or proportion more and more. The florid piece, which may be genuine, but was never fine, is an unsatisfactory possession, and one which the true collector, sooner or later, will be glad to part with.
Almost at the close of the eighteenth century, lacquer work was again revived, with the recrudescence of the Chinese taste, but the original methods of preparing the grounds, with carefully felted coats of varnish, was abandoned in favour of the quicker, but imperfect, shellac and spirit varnishes. This later lacquer furniture has very little individuality, although, occasionally, even as late as the Sheraton period, imitations of bamboo furniture were made on wood, and decorated with panels in the Chinese manner, the workmanship of which is of quite a high order of merit. Generally speaking, however, the period of English lacquer work may be said to extend from 1670 to 1740, after which latter date we find mere repetitions of the earlier work, or sporadic attempts at imitations of the Oriental manner which are too rare, or too diffuse, to be regarded as a definite style. As a history of English furniture can only be a chronicle of the rise, growth and decline of fashions, these later examples, however interesting, individually, they may be, cannot be held to form a section of our subject, as to describe and illustrate every offshoot from the main stem would require an account, descriptive and pictorial, of practically every piece of furniture which was made throughout the whole of the eighteenth century, and would conflict, on almost every page, with the system of classification which has been attempted in this book. As it is, the consideration of English lacquer work has necessitated an incursion into the eighteenth century, whereas the scope of the book may be said, in every other respect, - with the exception of the previous chapter, - to be limited to the seventeenth.