On this site you’ll see me using the term Japanning or Japan finish, but that may be confusing for some, so I’ve create this page to explain what exactly that is. Japanning is a style of finish put on metal, it originated in Europe, as the Europeans were trying to copy the Japanese lacquer like finishes. Black was the most common, and often thought of as the only colour associated with the Japan finish. Although other colours like brown, red, green and blue are common. A full and detailed history of Japanning can be found here.
The Japan finish we see in lanterns is like a shellac, brushed on and dried in an oven by the factory. The drying process often brings out rich and deep colours. On lanterns the Japan finish in the 1800s was a relatively translucent finish, but in the 1900s it would start to look more opaque and paint like. Every manufacturer had their own mix and preferences. As such the Japan finish varied greatly between manufacturers and when the lantern was made.