French Polishing is the application of many thin coats of shellac, which is derived from the excretion of the Lab beetle. The first reference of shellac appears as early as 1590, but its use was confined to the Far East until traders introduced it to Europe in the 1700’s. It wasn’t until the 1800’s though that the process was refined by the French.
French Polishing was the industry standard in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the process is labour intensive and by the 1930’s had been abandoned by many major manufacturers for the cheaper technique of spray finishing.
Although French Polishing is vulnerable to heat, it is also more forgiving than lacquers as it can be efficiently repaired, and is still considered to give the best possible finish.