Metalwork - Ormolu

This is the French name (literally or moulu, moulded gold) for articles and furniture mounts made of bronze and gilded. The piece having been made in bronze, was carefully and finely finished by chiselling and polishing and then coated with a mixture of mercury and gold. This amalgam was subjected to heat and the mercury evaporated leaving the gold deposited on the surface. Finally, the gold was burnished where required, or left matt.

The French developed the art of designing and making furniture mounts from ormolu, and were equally proficient at making clockcases, candlesticks, inkstands and other suitable pieces from the same material. Much thought was given to the mounting of porcelain in ormolu, and vases and figures with bases and other enhancements were valued highly for decoration. They fetch high prices today, but only if the mounts are genuinely of the eighteenth century. From 1745 to 1749 a tax was levied on ormolu, and pieces were stamped in a similar manner to silver. The mark is a letter 'c' beneath a crown, but as it was in use apparently for no more than four years specimens bearing it are rare.

German ormolu is not dissimilar to French, although seldom as highly finished. In England, the firm of Boulton and Fothergill, of Soho, Birmingham, made good ormolu at the end of the eighteenth century.

Old ormolu is sometimes found with the gilding in good condition, but frequently it is worn away on the surfaces exposed to wear. In the past more has been ruined by careless handling than by wear and tear; its greatest enemy is metal-polish, which should never be used on it. As with Sheffield plate, ormolu can be replated electrically but the appearance of the old cannot be reproduced exactly.

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