Inferior Imports from the Far East

Cheaply made commodities from China, India and Taiwan etc. are not a twentieth-century phenomenon.

Early trade with the East during the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries introduced Britain and Europe to hitherto unimaginable treasures: Brass, porcelain and silk, for example, were formerly unknown in the West.

The East India Company and other shippers quickly realised trade with the East could be a two-way street.  Their ships, of course, required ballast of some form or other on the outward journey and on occasion, British goods were taken aboard for low-cost replication out East.

This activity naturally drew the ire of various English Guilds and Companies, seeking to protect their own. In the early eighteenth-century, the London Joyners Company petitioned the government against the importation of cabinetwork from the East.

The London Joyners Company’s petition, circa 1710. (Lewis Walpole Library)

Jack Plane

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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7 Responses to Inferior Imports from the Far East

  1. Berniesr says:

    So there really isn’t anything new in the world.


  2. Chris Jussel says:

    plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bruce Lee says:

    I would like to point out that ‘Brass’ has been known in Europe since at least the days of the Greeks, and it has been suggested the term ‘Orichalc’ (mountain copper) refers to brass as opposed to Bronze (copper with tin or arsenic) . The main problem with brass production was getting the zinc into the alloy, until the development of direct smelting of zinc the usual method being to just add the zinc ore (calomine) directly to the molten copper. This resulted in a relatively low zinc content. As with the woodwork, the main thing was the importation of low quality knock offs of European designs, sometimes distinguishable by odd local additions – I just went to an exhibition in Sydney this week on the trade with India and saw a 1700’s pair of candle sticks that were copied from a French original but seem to have acquired a frieze of elephant heads that just don’t seem to fit in.


    • Jack Plane says:

      You are quite correct. I was being concise for the sake of a brief post. Brass was known in England and Europe from early times, but most likely originated through trade with the East. It wasn’t until the discovery of the ‘English process’ of extracting pure zinc from calamine and sphalerite in 1737 that the mass production of brass furniture fittings became possible.

      The term ‘orichalcum’ is another can of worms. Was it a noble metal? Was it an alloy? The Roman ‘aurichalcum’ was certainly an alloy. A few years ago, a number of ingots of brass, believed to be about 2,500 years old, were recovered from a ship wreck in the Mediterranean and due to their location, were widely touted to be orichalcum. However, after the composition was analysed, it’s altogether more likely the ingots had been acquired in the East – probably India.



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