South Asian Lacquerware

In addition to the collection of Japanese lacquerware, the Economic Botany Collections also have several fine examples of South and Southeast Asian lacquerware, including examples of Punjabi, Burmese, Malayan, and East Indies origin. Many of these objects were donated by the India Museum in the late 19th century.

South and Southeast Asian lacquerware is very different to Japanese lacquerware. Unlike Japanese lacquer which comes from the sap of the lac tree (Rhus vernicifera), South and Southeast Asian lacquer is shellac, much like that used today in many industrial applications, such as surface coatings, printing, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and adhesives. This Indian lac comes from the resinous deposits of lac insects (Kerria lacca or Laccifer lacca) on their host trees. Common host trees are Ficus religiosa, Zizyphus, Schleichera, and Butea monosperma .

The pictures here showcase the bold beauty of South and Southeast Asian lacquerware, with examples ranging from writing cases, paperweights, and even a desk, to goblets, jewellery boxes, and bowls. Their decorative detail and riotous colour differs greatly from the asymmetrical simplicity typical of Japanese design.


EBC 71931


  • Description: Writing desk
  • Donor: Col. A.W. Sinclair
  • Geographic Area: Malaysia
EBC 68558


  • Description: Goblet
  • Donor: India Office
  • Geographic Area: India
EBC 67732


  • Description: Jewel box
  • Donor: India Museum
  • Geographic Area: Asia
EBC 67723


  • Description: Lacquerware box
  • Donor: Dr. Aitchison
  • Geographic Area: Asia
EBC 67713


  • Description: Burmese lacquerware box
  • Donor: India Museum
  • Geographic Area: India
EBC 67705


  • Description: Paper weight
  • Donor: Sir J. Hooker
  • Geographic Area: Bangladesh
EBC 67704


  • Description: Writing cases
  • Donor: India Museum
  • Geographic Area: East Indies