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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events

Conservation Corner Back

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

gold leaf

Sample packages of genuine and imitation gold leaf – squares of genuine gold leaf [left] are always smaller than imitation gold leaf [right]

by Brian Dedora
The Workshop

We all know that all that glitters is not necessarily gold, but with sales pitches that use the term “gold leaf” indiscriminately it can be difficult to make informed choices when choosing gilded picture frames. The easiest way to discern a difference is cost: mouldings at a few dollars per foot are not genuine gold. That said, however, expensive mouldings are not necessarily real gold leaf either. For the purposes of this essay I will use “gold” for genuine leaf and “GML” for imitation leaf.

Goldbeaters produce a range of gold leaf from 10 karat up to 24 karat. Genuine gold is alloyed with either copper or silver to form a gold leaf that ranges from red (with copper) to pale colours (with silver).It is packaged in loose form for controlled environment leafing (i.e. no wind), and transfer or patent gold that is adhered to tissue paper for leafing outside or in large spaces where one can expect to find draughts. There are different grades of leaf – single weight, double and triple weight, plus glass leaf without pinholes for gilding on glass or where opaqueness is essential. International standards govern the production of both genuine and imitation leaf.

Leaf is cut into 3.25-inch or 85-mm squares and packaged 25 to a book and 20 books to a pack, for a total of 500 leaves per pack. The weight of gold is measured in grams per 1,000 leaves. With this measurement I know that 18-karat lemon gold contains 16 grams per 1,000 leaves from one goldbeater and another lemon gold from a different goldbeater is 21.5 karat and 19 grams per 1,000 and I can make a choice knowing that the latter is a heavier weight and therefore better for burnishing and will result in a brighter look.

The above, rather technical, description of gold leaf does not allude to that quality of gold that has entranced mankind since time immemorial: its ability to trap and reflect light. I remain amazed and gratified even after 35 years of gilding, at how a gilded frame can pick up ambient light and reflect it back in a darkened room. It is this quality of light and reflection that distinguishes gold leaf from GML.

GML is an alloy of copper and zinc and is produced in four colours numbered 1, 2, 2-1/2, and 3 with 1 being most red (more copper) and 3 being most yellow (more zinc). It is cut into 5 inch squares. If gold leaf is the thickness of newsprint, then GML is the thickness of matboard. Whereas gold leaf can be water gilded and burnished, GML can only be oil gilded and cannot be burnished. It must be sealed to prevent discoloration due to corrosion. Since GML is brass, it will never have the depth or reflectiveness of genuine gold.

One of the distinguishing features of genuine gold gilding is the overlapping of the layers of leaf. Some mouldings laid with GML are cross striped with white shellac to give the appearance of overlaps, a close look will reveal the stripes of shellac.

For more information visit the FACTS (Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards) website at www.artfacts.org.

Previously: The Case Against Canvas Backings
Next Issue: Sugar, Sugar – the conservation of an early B.C. labour protest poster.

 Fri, Nov 7, 2008