Angela Summerfield

Culture notes: Good as gold

Culture notes: Good as gold
Text settings

An enthralling exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Hall, Gold: Power and Allure (until 28 July), which charts Britain’s history and celebrates exquisite artistry and craftsmanship, awaits those who venture into the City this summer.

The grand opulence of the Hall is a superb setting: the deep plum-red, gilded and mahogany furnishings and the grand marble Staircase Hall enhance the magnificence of the display and serve to remind us that gold was not only worth its weight (unlike paper bank notes), but also played an important psychological role in Britain’s dominance on the world stage.

More than 400 gold objects, from 2,500 BC to the present, are on display. Drawn from major institutions and private bodies, they represent a rare opportunity to see magnificent symbols of office, reliquaries, objects of diplomacy, trophies, objets d’art and jewellery alongside the idiosyncratic, such as the c.1810 automaton mouse, above (a rival surely to the famous silver swan, whose home it shares at the Bowes Museum, County Durham).

The exhibition also casts a light on little-known episodes of British history, such as the Scottish gold rush of 1869; while the mysterious intricacies of gold hallmarking are explained in the highly informative ‘gold’ box-set catalogue. The history of the gold standard, first introduced by Isaac Newton, and formally adopted from 1816 to 1931, is exemplified by the display of gold coinage featuring the British monarch’s head and, of course, reminds us of the powerful origins of the sovereign coin.