While my grandson and I were gilding one of his drawings we broke off to look at videos about gold leaf and its manufacture and found this PathÃ© News film. It’s only 3 minutes long but it left a strong and lasting impression on us. If you watch it you will find that gold leaf is about 4 millionths of an inch thick, that women in 1959 took great care over their appearance when they came to sit at their benches interleaving the fluttering gold with membranes derived from the intestines of oxen. Other equally well-turned out women brushed the product with a hare’s foot. Men stood in a room thumping sandwiches of gold and ox guts which are wrapped in parcels of old parchments; typically extinct title deeds recovered from solicitors’ offices.
I was 11 in 1959 when the PathÃ© News film was made, my grandson would have to wait another 54 years to be born. No goldbeaters operate in this country now. Most gold leaf is made by machine but the best is still beaten by human power in Venice.
There are several inaccuracies in this mechanical scene inspired by the film: people don’t usually sit to perform the beating, the gold is not visible during the process and it’s really important to beat systematically, turning the package (called a cutch, which comprises 150 squares of gold interleaved with ox intestine) every few thumps. The gold you can see is real but I used only a quarter of one leaf so although gold is very expensive the stuff you see here cost only about 50 pence. Actually I paid more for the special 12 hour gold size that it’s stuck down with.
230 L x 150 H x 200 D mm
Pitch pine, boxwood, Tufnol, brass, lead, steel, Delrin, Liquitex, gold.