What You Need to Know about Getting Value from Thin Layers of Gold
“Pierre Gouthière: Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court,” an exhibition that just closed at the Frick Museum in New York, showed the work of an incredibly skilled French artisan who applied thin layers of gold to all kinds of items and surfaces. He applied gilding to bronze statuary, clocks, candlesticks, architectural ornaments, hardware, fireplace tools, and just about any metal surface that would be seen by his wealthy patrons, many of whom were members of the French royalty. This guy must have presided over a huge workshop. He produced tens of thousands of gilt items.
The purpose of his skill was to make all those items appear much more valuable than they really were. The recent exhibition of his work makes us want to answer the following questions about different ways that items can be made to look like they are made of solid gold.
What is Gilding?
Gouthière took many of his secrets to the grave with him, but his craft relied on applying the smallest amount of real gold possible to the largest surface area. That meant making a mixture of gold and mercury, applying it to bronze surfaces and getting it to adhere by applying heat.
In truth, gilt items contain very little gold. Unless you happen to own several rooms full of gilt bronze items, you are not going to make money recycling them. Chances are they are worth much more as antiques than they are as sources of precious gold.
What is Gold Leaf?
Gold leaf is genuine karat gold that has been beaten into very thin sheets, which an artisan then applies to surfaces that are made of wood, base metals, and even glass. You are likely to find it on picture frames and wooden walls and architectural details in houses of worship. Because gold leaf is soft and not durable, it is rarely applied to knives, forks or other items that are handled.
Even though gold leaf is real gold, such small amounts of the metal are used to cover large surfaces that it is not worth recycling.
What Are Gold Filling and Gold Plating?
Both terms describe processes of applying gold plating to underlying metal objects that can be made of silver or base metals like bronze. There are several ways this has been done in the past…
- In tank plating, the items to be plated are immersed in a solution that contains gold-bearing chemicals. An electrical charge is introduced that causes gold from the solution to adhere to the items being plated. This process was widely used until about 50 years ago, when relatively thick layers of gold were widely applied to items like gold-filled eyeglass frames.
- In modern electroplating using sputtering targets, very small quantities of gold are plated onto items like modern “gold toned” eyeglass frames and other decorative items. The plating process does not take place in a liquid solution. Sputtering is done in a vacuum chamber into which an inert gas is introduced – in most cases, argon. Two items are placed into that chamber: the item to be plated, and the “target” that contains the material that will be applied. A negative electrical charge is applied to the target, causing some of the electrons that it contains to travel to the material to be coated. Presto! You’ve got a very thin film of plating right where you want it.
What Are Your Gold-Covered Items Worth?
There is only one way to tell. Call Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners at 800-426-2344 and tell us what you have. We’ll explain how to send your items to our state-of-the-art labs for testing and evaluation.
All that glitters might be gold – either a lot of gold or just a little of it. We can tell you just what you have, recycle it and issue you prompt payment at full current trading prices.
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