Gilt Trip
November 29, 2010 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Are gilt page edges made of real gold, and if so can I get it off the pages and sell it?

I'm pretty sure this is one for the stupid file, but I just have to ask. Anyone who's familiar with old books has seen gilt page edges. Are these covered with real gold? If I could get it off of the page edges, how much gold would there be from one book?

At $1200 an ounce, it doesn't hurt to ask.
posted by crazylegs to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know they're real gold at least some of the time, but I don't know how you could get that gold off the books and sell it efficiently to be worth the trouble. Gold leaf is infinitesimally thin. The amount on a book weighs next to nothing.
posted by jon1270 at 12:10 PM on November 29, 2010

It probably won't pay to do that; gold is a very interesting metal in that it can be beaten into very, very thin sheets. Leaf gold is usually 100 to 1000 atom widths thick, so you'd get about one gram of gold from half a square meter of foil.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:13 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Burn it off.
posted by the cuban at 12:14 PM on November 29, 2010

Yeah, like the gold used in electronics, Goldschl├Ąger, and any other number of things, the product itself is almost always worth more than the gold used.
And the energy required to retrieve it will rarely be worth the money made by doing so. I'd imagine you'd make money faster picking bottles and returning them for the deposit.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depending on the age and quality of the book, the gilt edges may be real gold, or a low alloy of gold, or just paint.

A bit of googling reveals that a 3" square of even high-quality gold leaf weighs about 0.016 gram, or 0.00035 ounces. A large high quality volume might therefore have as much as a dollar's worth of gold on it -- which seems surprisingly high; I'm wondering if I goofed the math somewhere -- but even assuming that's correct the book itself would be vastly more valuable than its gilt, and scraping off the gold would remove far more than a dollar's worth of value from the book.
posted by ook at 12:31 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gold leaf sells for about .25/sheet, and sheets are like 5" square, so I would guess that the gold on each book is worth about a quarter. I would advise you to leave the poor books alone and do something else for money.
posted by rmless at 12:32 PM on November 29, 2010

Also, you could go buy some gold leaf yourself and charge people to gild their books, or make a gilded keyboard which is awesome.
posted by rmless at 12:35 PM on November 29, 2010

You'd be better off getting into the second hand book trade.
posted by fire&wings at 12:35 PM on November 29, 2010

Response by poster: Just to assuage the fears of book lovers, I'm not poised above any priceless tomes with Stanley knife at the ready, waiting for someone to give me the go ahead so I can rip into them. These answers are just confirming what I had already suspected regarding the value of the gold leaf on a book.

fire&wings: I've been in the second hand book trade off and on for the past ten years or so. It's a gig that's gone from being tough to being basically impossible, which is why I'm getting out of it. See ebay if you're curious - I've just listed 501 books starting at $1 (pickup only). No bids yet.

* sigh *
posted by crazylegs at 12:44 PM on November 29, 2010

My mother drinks a sparkling white wine infused with gold flakes. There seems to be about a thimble-full of gold in each bottle. (Yes, my kids did con her into straining one as we drank it, so they could keep the bounty.)

It's only AU$30 a bottle, so I'm glad to hear that you're not sabotaging even common books. Not worth it, I suspect.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:45 PM on November 29, 2010

Hi! I'm a bookbinder! I use gold leaf, but I haven't actually gilt an edge yet. I put it in impressions that I've previously tooled with a hot brass tool.

If it's an old book, the size or adhesive used is most likely egg glaire. It's made from egg whites, and as far as I'm aware, not reversible. Here's a blog post from one of my instructors describing the preparation.

Like others have said, gold leaf is ridiculously thin. Bookbinders typically use more than one layer, because otherwise the paper or leather underneath will show through and the color of the gold won't be quite, well, golden.

Basically the answer is no. But it would be a very interesting experiment.
posted by clockbound at 2:57 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

It strikes me that it would depend on volume. If you were incinerating tons of old books a day to generate power, recovering and selling the gold leaf might be worth it. Of course, the prospect of facing hordes of angry bibliophiles means that your profits would no doubt go directly to pay for security guards.
posted by metaquarry at 5:07 AM on November 30, 2010

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