Antiques Found Gilty
by Jessica Kosinski
Overlaying is a process of coating one substance with another substance. The two most common types of metal overlay are silver and gilt (gold). Silver and gilt overlay processes (gilding) have been used for many years to add decorative touches to various other materials, including glass and porcelain. The practice is used to decorate all types of objects ranging from decorative pieces like vases to dinnerware. Let’s take a peek at the history of the overlay process and how technological advances have influenced it over the years.
History of Silver Overlay
The earliest silver overlay process known originated on the Indian subcontinent. It was an ancient technique involving wrapping a sheet of silver around the object to be decorated. The artisan would then use burnishing or beating techniques to form a pattern in the sheet. The technique, which was quite time-consuming, was called Aftabi.
The Origins of Silver Overlay on Glass
Aftabi and other silver overlay techniques have been used for centuries to decorate many different materials. However, the technique of adding silver overlay to glass or porcelain is relatively new. It required a technological advancement that did not occur until the 1800s called electroplating. It was first used to add silver overlay to glass objects in Birmingham England in 1889 by Oscar Pierre Erard; however, Mr. Erard’s technique caused the underside of the overlay to turn black. When used on clear glass objects, that result was undesirable.
Silver Overlay on Glass in the United States
In the United States, silver overlay on glass was particularly popular from 1895 to 1920. Pieces featuring ornate silver overlay were often status symbols in homes. They were often given as special gifts and regarded as indicative of wealth or good taste; however, the Great Depression brought an end to the trend because it caused many glass companies to change the types of objects they produced or go out of business entirely. Nevertheless, some pieces were still produced after the country recovered.
Origins of Gilding
It is unknown exactly how long gold overlay processes have been used; however, gilding and similar processes are mentioned in historical texts dating back many centuries. Gold or gold sandwich-ed glass found in Hellenistic Greece typically contained a medallion or portrait of a ruler made of gold leaf and fused between two layers of glass. In the Late Empire in the 3rd and 4th century AD, gold decorated roundels of cups were often cut out of the piece and then cemented to the walls of the catacombs of Rome as grave markers.
Ancient Egyptians frequently used gilding techniques on goods and in their art. That historical information has been backed up by archaeological excavations during which such objects were discovered. Ancient Greek and Roman texts also mention early gilding processes.
Early gilding processes were quite different from the techniques used in modern times. Pieces created in recent history are designed using processes known as gold plating. Today the processes have been modernized and are performed mechanically. However, some artisans still practice early overlaying methods, some of which involved hammering or folding gold leaf onto objects. The exact method of gilding also varied based on the objects to be gilded. For example, historically a chalk or gypsum and glue substance called gesso was used for gilding many wood and canvas objects.
Other substances used to bind the gold leaf or overlay to objects included honey and egg whites. The latter often held the gold overlay only temporarily, causing eventual cracking. When collecting antique gilt overlay pieces today, such variations in methods used throughout the years and the materials on which the techniques were used can often help you to date the objects in question. The same is true when collecting objects adorned with silver overlay.
Value in Precious Metal Accents on Glass and Porcelain
First of all, it is very expensive to remove gold and silver that has been inlaid or applied to the surface of porcelain and glass – often more expensive than the value of the gold or silver itself. When it comes to gold accents, the quantity of gold present may not add value. Often there is not enough gold present to truly affect value.
Think of all the Homer Laughlin and Royal China patterns with gold accents on the rim and within the pattern that stated “22k gold warranty” on the back – at times this can prove less valuable because the gold or silver is so slight it can wear off over time. Post-WWII gold accented dinner wares were created to reflect the renewed prosperity in the country following the war and the Great Depression.
For fine china and glass, the use of gold on objects often proved to be an expensive decorating method, but worth the effort, giving each item an overall look of elegance and seen as a sign of good taste. While the gold does impact the cost of these items today, it is the overall quality of each piece, with a solid maker’s name and high-end finish, which lends itself to the overall value of the object.
Jessica Kosinski has been a freelance writer specializing in writing short articles for 15 years. She is also an avid collector of both antique books and Star Wars memorabilia. Although she is not in the antiques industry professionally, she has learned a lot about antiques over the years by periodically helping out at her mom’s antiques shop in Greenville, NH. She currently balances maintaining the antiques shop’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/MallofNE, and working on various freelance writing assignments. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.