We recently came across these Art-Deco bookends based on work by famed sculptor Salvatore Morani and figured it would be good time to shed a bit of light on the little known history of bronze-clad peices. Highly collectible, bronze-clad statues and bookends were produced for a very brief period beginning around the turn of the century. Using what was at the time a new and innovative process called “electroforming”, several companies produced bronze facsimiles of well known works of sculpture. Some companies, like Armor Bronze, even partnered with famous sculptors and artists like Salvatore Morani and John Ruhl.
Unlike the solid cast bronze or spelter pieces that preceded them, the bronze-cladding method these companies used was actually quite technologically advanced at the time. The electroforming process had been invented in Europe in 1830 but it wasn’t until 1889 when Paul Mori, a recent immigrant to the United States, founded the Galvano Bronze Company and became to first to employ the method on a commercial scale.
The process begins with a plaster cast of the piece to be clad. After a surface treatment with a substance to increase conductivity, the plaster is immersed in an electroforming tank and a current is applied causing a layer of bronze to slowly and evenly deposit across the surface of the plaster. Unlike electroplating, however, the electroforming process takes much longer to complete, as long as three days, and a much thicker skin of metal is formed.
While it produced wonderful results, the process was complex, expensive, and time consuming. By 1940, all but one of the major manufacturers of bronze-clad items had shut their doors for good. The limited period of manufacture coupled with the inherent fragility of bronze-clad plaster compared to solid metal means that examples that have survived in good condition are highly sought after by collectors.