However, there was, at least in the 19th century, quite a bit of work that went into turning gold into leaf. While doing some research on a western topic related to paper money, I ran into a description of the process in an article reprinted from the New York Sun, in 1887. “Gold leaf is manufactured in about twenty shops in New York and its suburbs,” it related. “It is estimated that 20,800 ounces of gold are consumed annually here in making gold leaf,” which was then use by gilders, bookbinders, dentists and sign painters. “Gold can beaten so thin that it will take 1,200 leaves to equal the thickness of the sheet upon which this [news]paper is printed. An ounce can be beaten down to 2,500 leaves three and three-eights inches square.”
The reporter related that at the beginning of the process, quarter-inch thick bars of gold were “rolled into a ribbon as thick as note paper.” Gold beating was then done, by men, to “one three-hundred-thousandth of an inch thick at five grains to the book.” When asked how the gold was beaten, the reporter learned that, “It is beaten in molds made in London from the intestines of cows, cleaned and varnished with a secret preparation manufactured by Puckridge & Nephew, of London. The skins are put in packages of 900 skins each, and three of these molds go to a beating.”
Asked how much gold is there in a beating, the reporter learned there were 50 pennyweights. “The ribbon of solid gold is divided into 170 or 180 pieces, each about an inch square. These are put into a cutch made of French paper four inches square. That is beaten until we get the gold to the edges. It is handled with pincers at that time. It is beat half an hour. The pieces are then piled twenty on top of each other. They are then cut in four and doubled over, making 720. They are then put in a ‘schoder,’ or finer mold cut down. We fill the schoder with those leaves in the middle, and beat it out to the edges. We beat it about two hours, until we draw about ten pennyweights off the schoder.”
Besides that, the leaves are “cut again into four with a tool called a wagon making 2,880,” and the molds are beaten for an additional four hours.
So, how much did a gold beater earn? Well, he got paid by the piece, getting $5 a beating, with a good beater able to bring two beatings, etc., to completion in week and as many as nine in a month. Plus, there was bit extra paid if the gold was beaten below five grains to a book.
More Coin Collecting Resources:
• Kick-start your coin collection with the Fundamentals of Coin Collecting set of essential resources and tools.
• Strike it rich with this U.S. coins value pack.
• Build an impressive collection with Coin Collecting 101.