The art of gold leafing dates back to the times of the Pharaohs. Gold leafing is a process in which artisans hammer gold until it has achieved thin layers. The layers are then applied over the item to give it the look of solid gold.
Probably the most famous example of this is the burial mask of King Tutankhamen or “King Tut.” Not only the mask but several objects would be gold leafed. This is why the ancient burial chambers used to get looted by thieves and the thieves would in turn take the objects and peel the gold off them which then had the consistency or weight similar to tin foil. The gold would be melted down and resold.
Through the years, decades, and centuries up until today gold leafing has become a refined art form. The gold leaf has become the weight and thickness of feathers and is still used for application over picture frames and any given number of objects. This process is still very costly and time-consuming. As with everything else, this process is imitated to give an item the “look” of being gold leafed.
Being in the antiques and estate jewelry business, I have had several people approach me over the years regarding ceramic and glass objects being marked “24K gold trim” or “painted in solid 24K gold.” There is a ring of truth as to the gold trim being 24K, but the amount of solid gold actually used is not worth the cost of a telephone call. Through the aid of modern technology, dishes and glassware can be elaborately decorated in gold paint.
Gold painted items–examples
I have shown a few 20th century examples of gold painting on china and glassware. The first is the Hawaiian souvenir dish from the 1980’s being labeled on the front “24K gold trim”. This gives the novice buyer self assurance of the item being of value and collectability.
The second piece is a 1930’s oval dish with handles. It is marked “Pickard China 24K Gold.” It looks very good and one would think that the gold alone on this dish is very valuable but it is actually worth about $10-$20.00.
Then we have American glassware from the 1950’s with etched gold rims again worth about $10-$20.00 each. So if you have or see in your antiquing ventures that golden stamp of 24K, just remember that it is not the monetary value of the item being marked.
I hope this gives you some insight into gold leafing versus gold-painted wares.