This Golden Leaf - The Origins of Imitation Gold Leaf

imitation gold leaf

There is very little written concerning the origins of imitation gold  leaf.

This material is known by various names; composition gold leaf,  Dutch gold and in Germany it is known as Schlagmetal.

I am of the opinion that it probably originated during the industrial era.  It was during this time that a new middle class was emerging and creating a demand for cheaper work.

There are many examples of 19th century gilded picture frames which employed imitation leaf.

Also the alloys used in the production of this material do not have anything like the malleability of genuine gold, I am certain some form of mechanical or hydraulic press would be needed to produce the leaf.

The leaf comes in a range of different alloys which creates various shades.

No 1 Is a very deep red, composed of an alloy of 10% zinc and 90% copper.

No 2 Is a red/gold color, composed of an alloy of 12% zinc and 88% copper.

No2 ½ Has a color similar to that of 22K gold leaf, an alloy composed of 15% zinc and 85% copper. This is the colour I recommend and use myself

No 3 Is a yellow color, composed of an alloy of 18% zinc and 82% copper. 

These alloys when combined, closely resembles the fine appearance of genuine gold metals.

The thickness of the leaf is approximately 0.3 microns.


Each book of this golden leaf contains 25 leaves about 5 inches square.


When genuine gold leaf is used outside it has to be protected with a clear varnish,  imitation leaf is the same, it has to be protected with a  lacquer, but this is not a problem as all the glazes and ageing processes shown on this site call for the leaf to be given a coating of lacquer of some sort.

Both the leaf and the lacquer can be found at the gilding supplies page.


OK, now we come to an important subject. How to handle gold leaf



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Seb Dale 
I just want to salute your generosity in giving away your gilding knowledge. Excellent guide books,  I was not able to find such a simplified explanation in any book at the local library. 
Ghassan Haddad 
After looking at various sites and suppliers on the net, your site is just wonderful - clear, accessible, descriptive and demystifying. Thanks so much for making your knowledge available! Liz 
You did a brilliant job of mentoring me through my project, it turned out very well, I am extremely happy with the results.
Your manuals are excellent. I easily worked my way through your gilded manuscript project and the result is now framed and hanging in my living room. Thank you.