This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
This is the simplest phase of the art. As usually performed, a leaf is taken from the book, laid on the pad, blown flat and smooth by puffs from the mouth, and then cut to shape for the surface to be gilded, allowing a small surplus margin. The shaped leaf is removed from the pad by the aid of the tip, which is first passed across the skin or hair of the operator to render it just adhesive enough to retain the leaf sufficiently long for its transference to the work. But readier ways of transferring the leaf are often adopted. For instance, the leaves may be cut to shape by a penknife while in the book, and carried to the work on intervening slips of paper. Or the leaves may be picked up quite flat by a piece of waxed paper, or by breathing on the surface of a stick covered with cloth. But absolute stillness of the air in the apartment is essential to success in every case.
The surface intended for the reception of the leaf must be previously sized, and this sufficiently long in advance (varying with the kind of size used) to allow the size to dry to the correct degree. It is important that the sizing coat be equally distributed, and that no more ground be sized at once than can be conveniently gilded at a single operation. To judge exactly the best moment for laying the leaf on the size requires some experience : the size should be as dry as is compatible with the security of the leaf. The degree of moisture necessary varies with the kind of leaf, being least for gold leaf, more for silver, and most for Dutch leaf. If the sized ground should from any cause become too dry, the evil may be remedied by a short warming at the fire, observing the precaution to lay the leaves the moment they will stick, as the adhesiveness soon disappears after the heating.
The leaves being laid all over the sized surface, any remaining gaps are made good, and the whole gilded surface is gently pressed with the bob, to ensure its complete adhesion. This operation is often performed with a large paint brush, by dabbing it lightly down endwise, "stippling" in fact; indeed a brush is much more convenient and effective when the surface is uneven. The gilded surface should be carefully brushed to remove stray fragments of leaf, and then painted over with a clear size made by dissolving parchment shreds in water to the consistence of thin jelly, or with a varnish made by dissolving dammar in turpentine or spirits of wine.
Obviously the process of dead gilding must undergo some modification according to the ground on which the leaves have to be laid. These conditions will now be considered in reference to the articles ordinarily selected for gilding.