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Gilding, Gilt

Gilding, Gilt.  Covered with gold; the application of gold to an object by any process. Gilding must use some form of gold to overlay, it cannot be gold color alone; the purpose is to give an object of any base metal the desirable qualities, allure and color of a gold surface. Obviously goldplating – by electrodeposition – is a major process of applying a fine layer of gold to a surface, but this has been in use only since about 1840s. Previously gold was applied by firegilding and by the use of gold leaf (both since antiquity).

The quantity of gold does not affect the status of being gilded – from a thin layer (flash plate or gold wash) to a heavy goldplate, or even where the gold has started to wear off, as parcelgilt, or where it has been removed (by depletion gilding). If the gilt piece is to be worn, the thickness of the plating is critical – thin gold covering will wear through in time exposing the base metal (bleeding), in contrast to heavy goldplate. Even vermeil – goldplated silver – bearing the characteristic sheen of silver yet the color of gold is a form of gilt.

Gilding must imply some actual gold surface – irrespective of what is underneath. Thus gilt (and pure solid gold) items are susceptible to test cuts where unthinking people cut an edge to determine the base metal. Any other form of gold coloring – as gold lacquer, gold tint or whatever – is not gilt.  See goldplate, goldplating.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


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