1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
Gold and Silver Thread
Under this heading some general account may be given of gold and silver strips, threads and gimp used in connexion with varieties of weaving, embroidery and twisting and plaiting or lace work. To this day, in many oriental centres where it seems that early traditions of the knowledge and the use of fabrics wholly or partly woven, ornamented, and embroidered with gold and silver have been maintained, the passion for such brilliant and costly textiles is still strong and prevalent. One of the earliest mentions of the use of gold in a woven fabric occurs in the description of the ephod made for Aaron (Exod. xxxix. 2, 3), "And he made the ephod of gold, blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. And they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires (strips), to work it in the blue, and in the purple, and in the scarlet, and in the fine linen, with cunning work." This is suggestive of early Syrian or Arabic in-darning or weaving with gold strips or tinsel. In both the Iliad and the Odyssey allusion is frequently made to inwoven and embroidered golden textiles. Assyrian sculpture gives an elaborately designed ornament upon the robe of King Assur-nasir-pal (884 B.C.) which was probably an interweaving of gold and coloured threads, and testifies to the consummate skill of Assyrian or Babylonian workers at that date. From Assyrian and Babylonian weavers the conquering Persians of the time of Darius derived their celebrity as weavers and users of splendid stuffs. Herodotus describes the corselet given by Amasis king of Egypt to the Minerva of Lindus and how it was inwoven or embroidered with gold. Darius, we are told, wore a war mantle on which were figured (probably inwoven) two golden hawks as if pecking at each other. Alexander the Great is said to have found Eastern kings and princes arrayed in robes of gold and purple. More than two hundred years later than Alexander the Great was the king of Pergamos (the third bearing the name Attalus) who gave much attention to working in metals and is mentioned by Pliny as having invented weaving with gold, hence the historic Attalic cloths. There are several references in Roman writings to costumes and stuffs woven and embroidered with gold threads and the Graeco-Roman chryso-phrygium and the Roman auri-phrygium are evidences not only of Roman work with gold threads but also of its indebtedness to Phrygian sources. The famous tunics of Agrippina and those of Heliogabalus are said to have been of tissues made entirely with gold threads, whereas the robes which Marcus Aurelius found in the treasury of Hadrian, as well as the costumes sold at the dispersal of the wardrobe of Commodus, were different in character, being of fine linen and possibly even of silken stuffs inwoven or embroidered with gold threads. The same description is perhaps correct of the reputedly splendid hangings with which King Dagobert
decorated the early medieval oratory of St Denis. Reference to these and many such stuffs is made by the respectively contemporary or almost contemporary writers; and a very full and interesting work by Monsieur Francisque Michel (Paris, 1852) is still a standard book for consultation in respect of the history of silk, gold and silver stuffs.
From indications such as these, as well as those of later date, one sees broadly that the art of weaving and embroidering with gold and silver threads passed from one great city to another, travelling as a rule westward. Babylon, Tarsus, Bagdad, Damascus, the islands of Cyprus and Sicily, Constantinople, Venice and southern Spain appear successively in the process of time as famous centres of these much-prized manufactures. During the middle ages European royal personages and high ecclesiastical dignitaries used cloth and tissues of gold and silver for their state and ceremonial robes, as well as for costly hangings and decoration; and various names - ciclatoun, tartarium, naques or nac, baudekin or baldachin (Bagdad) and tissue - were applied to textiles in the making of which gold threads were almost always introduced in combination with others. The thin flimsy paper known as tissue paper is so called because it originally was placed between the folds of gold "tissue" (or weaving) to prevent the contiguous surfaces from fraying each other. Under the articles dealing with carpets, embroidery, lace and tapestry will be found notices of the occasional use in such productions of gold and silver threads. Of early date in the history of European weaving are rich stuffs produced in Southern Spain by Moors, as well as by Saracenic and Byzantine weavers at Palermo and Constantinople in the 12th century, in which metallic threads were freely used. Equally esteemed at about the same period were corresponding stuffs made in Cyprus, whilst for centuries later the merchants in such fabrics eagerly sought for and traded in Cyprus gold and silver threads. Later the actual manufacture of them was not confined to Cyprus, but was also carried on by Italian thread and trimming makers from the 14th century onwards. For the most part the gold threads referred to were of silver gilt. In rare instances of middle-age Moorish or Arabian fabrics the gold threads are made with strips of parchment or paper gilt and still rarer are instances of the use of real gold wire.
In India the preparation of varieties of gold and silver threads is an ancient and important art. The "gold wire" of the manufacturer has been and is as a rule silver wire gilt, the silver wire being, of course, composed of pure silver. The wire is drawn by means of simple draw-plates, with rude and simple appliances, from rounded bars of silver, or gold-plated silver, as the case may be. The wire is flattened into strip, tinsel or ribbon-like form, by passing fourteen or fifteen strands simultaneously, over a fine, smooth, round-topped anvil and beating each as it passes with a heavy hammer having a slightly convex surface. Such strips or tinsel of wire so flattened are woven into Indian soniri, tissue or cloth of gold, the web or warp being composed entirely of golden strips, and ruperi, similar tissue of silver. Other gold and silver threads suitable for use in embroidery, pillow and needlepoint lace making, &c., consist of fine strips of flattened wire wound round cores of orange (in the case of silver, white) silk thread so as to completely cover them. Wires flattened or partially flattened are also twisted into exceedingly fine spirals and much used for heavy embroideries. Spangles for embroideries, &c., are made from spirals of comparatively stout wire, by cutting them down ring by ring, laying each C-like ring on an anvil, and by a smart blow with a hammer flattening it out into a thin round disk with a slit extending from the centre to one edge. The demand for many kinds of loom-woven and embroidered gold and silver work in India is immense, and the variety of textiles so ornamented is also very great, chief amongst which are the golden or silvery tinsel fabrics known as kincobs.
Amongst Western communities the demand for gold and silver embroideries and braid lace now exists chiefly in connexion with naval, military and other uniforms, masonic insignia, court costumes, public and private liveries, ecclesiastical robes and draperies, theatrical dresses, &c.
The proportions of gold and silver in the gold thread for the woven braid lace or ribbon trade varies, but in all cases the proportion of gold is exceedingly small. An ordinary gold braid wire is drawn from a bar containing 90 parts of silver and 7 of copper, and plated with 3 of gold. On an average each ounce troy of a bar so plated is drawn into 1500 yds. of wire; and therefore about 16 grains of gold cover i m. of wire. (A. S. C.)
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Gold and Silver Thread'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/g/gold-and-silver-thread.html. 1910.