Goldeaf-Art of the Ancients
About Gold leaf
Goldleaf! Just the name brings up an image of style, class and beauty. Gold. We know it's shiny, brilliant and
sought after. But what exactly is gold leaf? And what is gold leaf gilding and lettering?
Gold leaf is genuine gold that has been literaly pounded to a degree of thinness that I like to think of as
being almost two dimensional. A leaf averages between 1/300,000 and 1/250,000 of an inch thick. Though now mostly
mechanized, the basic procedure is the same. A small square of gold is placed between sheets of vellum. Layers of
gold and vellum are stacked to create what is called a stack. The stack is then beaten with a hammer in a set
pattern until the gold spreads out to the edges of the vellum. The now much thinner gold is cut into smaller
Gold leaf is graded by karat, twenty four being pure gold and going through 23 1/2, 23, 22, 18
down to 12 karat which is "white gold" due its high silver content. Twenty three karat gold is the standard
for outdoor exposure. It is pure enough that it won't tarnish and has enough alloy to add strenghth. Genuine
gold leaf comes as an approximately 3 3/8" x 3 3/8"square, placed between sheets of rouged paper to form a
book of twenty five sheets. These are the packages that I carry and use when applying my gold leaf lettering
and designs onto boats, vehicles, signs or windows.
Goldleaf gilding is an ancient art form. It's brilliance, durability and longevity is legendary and
goldleaf was used in Ancient Egyptian burials, through Chinese and Japanese history and the Renaissance. Back
in the early twentieth century, goldleaf was used throughout the sign industry. Banks, even drugstores and hardware
store windows all had gold leaf lettering. The Woolworth's signs were wooden letters gilded with gold leaf and set
in a bed of glass smalts. From carriages to delivery trucks and fire apparatus there was gold leaf lettering. It
seems only natural that the tradition is carried on with boats.
The technique of applying gold leaf lettering to a boat transom involves a step by step procedure unchanged by
time! A type of varnish called gold size is handlettered onto the surface and allowed to dry to just the right
tackiness. If it is too wet, the thin gold will break apart. If it is too dry, there will be problems with the gold
sticking to the size. When the sheet of gold is laid onto the size, the excess can be cleaned up with a piece of
cotton or a finger, the leaf being so thin that it just wipes away. The additional process of hand spinning the
gold give it a beautifully swirled effect. Next comes the outlining and shading with paint and adding any other
embellishments or graphics to the design. Finally a coat of clear or varnish is added to protect the gold from
Unlike vinyl lettering which fades and cracks within a few years of exposure to the sun and elements, gold leaf
retains its brilliance. For thousands of years it has been the elegant choice of kings, emporers, businesses,
artisans, decorators and those that enjoy and appreciate its beauty. Gold leaf is the perfect finishing touch for
any craftsman's labor of love!
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