Dick Johnson submitted these notes on two useful numismatic vocabulary words. Thanks!
One year ago in April Tiffany & Co announced it had a new metal in which it could make its precious metal items. It wanted something new and dramatic for its 175th anniversary. It revealed it would make jewelry in RUBEDO.
The word "rubedo" is Latin for redness. It conjures up a heritage associated with alchemists and is one of the four stages of alchemy (the other three are blackness, whiteness, and yellowness). With that kind of heritage an advertising copywriter could expound at length.
That's exactly what happened and it drew fire from some critics, particular the text of its advertisements. Rubedo is not a metal and it is not new said the critics. An article "Testing One's Metal" by Patricia Cohen in the April 4, 2012 New York Times discussed these comments. She quoted Anthony J. DeArdo, a professor at University of Pittsburgh, who said:
"It may be one of the 14 million alloys that people have cooked up over the decades. Certain combinations of gold, silver and copper are not new."
Unless an item is marked with a Karat amount consumers do not know what the gold content is. Author Cohen had a rubedo specimen tested to find it was 31% gold, 55% copper, the remainder silver with a trace amount of zinc. That made the karat amount 7.5.
In numismatics it is not new to name a new alloy. In 1913 coin dealer Tom Elder created a line of portrait plaques. He had these cast in bronze but called it "Corinthian Bronze." In ancient times this was an alloy with a little gold included. We suspect Elder tossed a worn gold coin in the melting pot to qualify for this newly named composition.
More recently Joe Segel called a bronze alloy of his creation "Franklinium" to strike medals at the Franklin Mint.
Just this week I learned the outcome of "rubedo." An article on Tiffany silver in the Wall Street Journal (Thursday March 21, 2013, p B6) revealed late in the article that the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau had ruled on rubedo.
It found Tiffany free of any wrongdoing. The wording in their advertising was not misleading.
Had Tiffany used a different word there would have been no controversy. I suggest the word VERMEIL That is French for goldplated silver or silver gilt (and pronounced vair-MAY). Medallic Art Company often struck medals in vermeil, notably U.S. Presidential Inaugural medals.
In their advertising Tiffany described rubedo as "the richness of gold and the brilliance of silver." I had instructed our copywriters to describe vermeil as "the color of gold, and the sheen of silver." I like Tiffany's words better, now on reflection. But that's why I am a poor wordsmith and not a highly paid copywriter.
All precious metal items must be marked somehow with their purity. Ironically in the metal industry this is called the "Tiffany Law" since Tiffany forced its adoption in this country in 1906. This was based on a similar 1904 law in England (which was somewhat unnecessary since they had the custom of hallmarking precious metal objects since 1300).
Vermeil items thus must be marked with the precious metal content. This hallmarking can be any lettering -- words or figures -- so long as the silver is identified: ARGENT, PLATA, FINE SILVER, COIN SILVER, .900 or .999 SILVER (with or without the period) or such. The gold does not need to be noted as it contains so little gold. However such plated objects are customarily marked: GOLDPLATED, H.G.P. (for hard gold plate), or by a figure and K (for the karat content).
More recently copywriters are getting sexy by saying; LAYERED IN PURE GOLD. This can even be found edge lettered on a medal.
Tiffany was no stranger to vermeil. In the mid 1950s Tiffany had developed a process of using multiple plating tanks (or multiple metal anodes) to reduce the gold content. Because gold plating changes to the gold color with a minimum of gold it still provides its distinctive yellow color. Such plated objects (including medals) may be found marked 22 1/2-K GOLDPLATE or even 18 1/2 K.
It all means the object was goldplated.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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