The History of Gilt Bronzing Technique
Today, we can say that the various 18th-century copper accessories that we have seen, whether it is furniture decoration racks to wall lamps, candelabra, are rarely made from the original mercury bronzing. The only exceptions are the few copper fittings made for the royal family, with a thick layer of gold on them, and other objects abandoned in the attic, which are protected by thick dust., from being damaged by the atmosphere. In addition, some mercury bronzing workshops survived in the 19th and 20th centuries by diversifying to electronic gilding. Gold electroplating is a much lower cost process that developed rapidly in the second half of the 19th century. As we have already noticed, many pieces of furniture have copper brackets with almost no bronzing. As we mentioned before, the artisans did this to save gold, because the price of gold was already quite expensive at that time. However, it is also possible that many pieces of furniture have been replaced by newer styles of new furniture, so fittings on earlier furniture will not be re-gilded. We should know that from 1696 to the beginning of the 18th century, there were about 750 certified mercury goldsmiths (masters and apprentices) in Paris alone. From chandeliers, to copper brackets for furniture and various clocks, to inconspicuous buttons, mercury bronzing is everywhere. The silver-plating technique that was popular in Louis XIV is not immune to this. Therefore, we can say that in the 18th century, the French bronzing process influenced the whole of Europe and left a profound influence.
If we now look back at the 19th century, it is not difficult to find that the French Revolution ended the old system. Because of this, it was difficult to find a reliable mercury bronzing workshop in the first half of the 20th century. However, according to the existing evidence that has been preserved (imperial furniture, chandeliers, wall lamps, central table parts, clocks, etc.), in France, as elsewhere in Europe, the craft of mercury bronzing is still used. We can also use the Bottin Diderot of 1863, which, together with dozens of electronic gilding workshops, gave the names and addresses of twelve artisans who were using the old style (that is, using mercury) for bronzing.
Today, there are still a large number of bronzing workshops working in Paris. These include Mahieu and Schmidt, which have been gilding since 1880. In addition, there is an old Poggiali company in Florence and the Rossi workshop operating in the center of Rome, just a step away from Piazza del Popolo. The windows of the workshop face the street, so we can observe the craftsmen patiently gilding the decorative bronze.
In addition, there are some large or small workshops producing copper accessories. However, their quantity is not enough to meet the needs of antique dealers, and antique dealers are usually more willing to pay higher prices for mercury bronzing in order to respect the tradition of restoring their original appearance according to the principles of craftsmanship.
At this point, we should not forget that some people have betrayed the unwritten rule of antique dealers by using electroplated gold or mercury nitrate on artifacts from the 18th century or the imperial period to save costs.
In the next topic, I will explain the effect of the quality of the bronzing process on the copper fittings on the value of the furniture itself.