Discover Copper Online

Spring 1993

Copper Outlasts Gold At Boston’s Old State House

Gilded scroll on the west gable of the Old State House.

Copper can outlast gold, at least in the gilded form! When the statues and weathervanes on the Old State House and Faneuil Hall in Boston were removed for regilding, the copper forms under the 20-year-old, largely worn-away gilding were in excellent condition.

The copper embellishments on the Old State House are a lion, a unicorn, an eagle, two scrolls and a banner-type weathervane. Atop nearby Faneuil Hall is its trademark, a copper weathervane in the shape of a grasshopper. All were regilded with 24-carat gold leaf, except for the unicorn, which was "regilded" with aluminum leaf simulating silver.

In addition to the statues and weathervanes, there's tons more copper in the State House's gilded cupola and decorative filigree around its clock and in the tower and dome on Faneuil Hall.

Peter Dessauer, an historical architect with the National Park Service (NPS), which funded the restoration, explained why even more copper was added in addition to the existing copper. "We did not hesitate to repair and improve the structures with state-of-the-art materials." Several thousand square feet of lead-coated copper sheeting was added as flashing around chimneys and windows and at exposed corners. The copper was chosen for its durability, but coated with lead to prevent staining yet retain malleability.

The regilding was just one phase of the $10.6-million restoration of the State House, which is 280 years old, and Faneuil Hall, which is 250 years old. Only the copper weathervanes date from the original construction.

The lion, eagle and unicorn, which are royal symbols from the Colonial era, were originally made of wood. There's some evidence that they were gilded, according to Dr. Judith Selwyn. She's a chemist and principal with Preservation Technology Associates, Boston, consultants to NPS and to the restoration architects, Goody, Clancy & Associates, Boston.

Gilded eagle on the west facade of the State House.

The present copper-based decorative elements replaced the wooden versions early in this century. They were last regilded for the Bicentennial in 1976. The latest regilding was accomplished by Skylight Studios, Woburn, Massachusetts. The general contractor was A. J. Martini, Inc., Malden, Mass.

To regild the decorative elements, they had to be removed, crated, sent to the gilder's workshop, stripped of old gilding, subjected to some minor repairs, regilded and then remounted, all of which took about four months. Powerful cranes were required to lift the decorative elements off and then back onto their perches. The copper in the filigree decorating the clock on the Old State House was repainted not gilded.

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