Can't identify finish on 1820 mahogany chest/dresser

I'm sure that many of you can help me but I'm at a loss. Picked up a mahogany dresser/chest that was made about 1820. It had been painted many years and the price reflected that so I bought it. Stripped much of the paint using commercial stripper and revealed some beautiful mahagony. Some of the veneer was missing and patched with something before painting. This piece is really great and well worth the effort that it will take to bring it back. Would like to finish it in whatever it came with so long ago. Some of the original finish remains when I remove the paint. My question: Can't identify the finish and need advice. Assumed shellac because of its age. Alcohol did not soften it Must be lacquer. Lacquer thinner did not soften it. Wax? It is pretty early. Paint thinner didn't remove it. There is only one coat of paint and one coat of the original finish and I'm very sure of its age. Any ideas will be appreciated. Was anything but shellac used in 1820? Could it have been refinished many many years ago?
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That era finish may have been japanned. A black lacquer glossy finish. Do a Google search for this technique. It may have refinished with polyurethane and that would explain the difficulty removing the finish. Sand,scrape and clean then re-apply the japanning.
Dave
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I'd still bet on shellac. Acetone works better than alcohol on old shellac. Put a rag with lots on it and leave it in place for a while to help soften.
bigchef wrote:

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Thanks! I'll get some acetone and try it. Have you experienced this in the past? I read up a bit on old finishes and it seems that in the 1820 timeframe the only finshes being used in the states were wax and shellac.
SonomaProducts.com wrote:

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I have used Acetone on old pieces and had it work very well. I've been surprised too in finding what I thought was an old shellac finish turned out to surely be a poly of some sort which is no win situation. bigchef wrote:

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From 1820 if it originally had a surface finish it surely had to be shellac, but if that is the actual age, it could have been refinished several times with most anything. Even a polyurethane finish could be 40 years old now! There were some varnishes made going way back even to the 1600s IIRC, but their use was very rare, mostly for violins I believe.
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bigchef wrote:

Yes, spirit varnishes were common too (plant resins in alcohol). You can't french polish a varnish, so if it looks like it would have been finished to a high gloss, then it's likely to be shellac. Spirit varnishes need to be heated to dissolve them, so they won't redissolve under the polisher's rubber. This also means they're harder to strip in later years. Commercial strippers like Nitromors (dichloromethane and methanol) are the best way to strip either.
Timber was never japanned (Japanning usually implies a stoved curing with a bitumen resin, which obviously wasn't usable on timber). If it's painted black to resemble oriental lacquer, then that's probably a dyed spirit varnish or possibly dyed shellac.
If shellac doesn't shift with alcohols, try some ammonia on it. Don't do this to tannin-rich timbers though, or you'll get the ammonia darkening effect! Experiment on an invisible spot test first.
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