I have always sympathized with the Pirates in so many childhood tales, because I too seem to be drawn to all things shiny. As a child I watched my mother, a self-taught furniture doctor, take sadly destroyed giltwood frames and bring them back to their golden glory. I took this knowledge gathered through observation for granted over the years, but after pursuing an MFA in painting, I found myself managing a decorative painting and restoration studio in Washington DC, and suddenly all of the knowledge passed to me as a child of a furniture doctor and painter was very useful. In the last decade I have spent time gilding and restoring everything imaginable, from the ceiling of the Plaza Hotel in New York to the frames at French Metro.
The first step to recognizing gold leaf is simple. Items which have been gilt will have visible lines where the gold has been laid across the plastered surface. Normally a red iron oxide underbody has been applied and is visible through these lines. Gold leaf is essentially a foil, so you can imagine that if you wrapped foil around a curved surface it would create little lines, but with gold leaf this is a much finer network of creases.
If something has been gilt in 22karat gold, the individual leaves will have been laid all in a row, with the size of each leaf left clearly visible with the faint red tone of the underbody coming through each divide. Recognizing real gold leaf is fairly simple. Usually it has not been antiqued, and the shine and hue of the gold is much lighter as a result. This is because real gold is immune to the oxidation and rusting that will attack lesser metals. When something is finished in imitation leaf it must be varnished or sealed to keep the air from eventually turning it black. The size of the leaf is also a good indication. Real gold leaf is much smaller, usually coming in 2.5” squares, whereas imitation leaves come in 3” to 5” squares.
Real gold leaf is what adorns the exterior decorative elements of most of our nation’s monuments. This is again due to its resistance to the elements. Most of the frames that have made their way to French Metro have a long a storied history, and because of Renee’s wonderful eye for quality I can truly say they are all finished in gold leaf, not all 22 karat, no, but they are all the real shiny stuff instead of paint, so this pirate has found her treasure.