The art of lacquering originated in China with the discovery of the protective properties of the sap of the lacquer tree. When applied to wood or metal, the sap forms a hard, durable semi-transparent film which can then be used to coat the surface of most materials. The benefits of the lacquer is that besides being a preservative it provides a smooth surface which can then be coloured, painted and carved on. Europe, towards the end of the 17th Century, and throughout the 18th Century, became fascinated by all goods associated with China and so many such goods began to be imported into the West, that organisations such as the East India Company commissioned labourers in China to produce Chinese designs, but in the style of the West. The result was bureaux-cabinets of this style with Chinese scenery, frequently being imported into England, the first recorded import of lacquer ware by the East India Company taking place in 1683. By the 18th Century many countries in Europe began to devise methods of imitating oriental lacquer, known as Japanning. The main ingredient of the lacquer was not available in Europe so that European imitations were made of gum-lac, seed-lac or shell-lac. The finest examples are difficult to distinguish from true lacquer although the decorations (which are often Chinoisserie) usually give them away. Stalker and Parker are believed to have been two of the leading craftsmen in the art of Japanning having written A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, Oxford, 1688, which describes the various ways of imitating Japanese lacquer. Examples of similar 'Japanned' bureaux-cabinets include one sold anonymously at Sotheby's New York, 25 April 1987, lot 130 and another sold anonymously at Phillip's, 23 April 1996, lot 77 (M. Jourdain and R. Soame Jenyns, Chinese Export Art in the Eighteenth Century, Norwich, 1967).