The manufacture of gold leaf has an almost five thousand year old tradition. Already in the old Egypt, people knew about the use of gold leaf for decoration purposes. The earliest representation of a gold beater dates to 2500 BC and is in a grave in the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Saqqara. This illustration shows the mould, lying on a stone anvil, which is beaten with a spherical stone tool.
India has the longest tradition of gold leaf manufacturing. Already in 600 BC, they used thin gold leaves for buddhist statues. The craft is also known in Japan and China at this time.
In Greece, at the time of Homer around 850 BC, Gods-statues were applied with gold leaves. The historian Plinius reports that the Romans, after 146 BC, were able to produce 750 leaves of 4 finger lateral length and a thickness of 1/3000 mm from one ounce.
The craftsmanship of gold beating came from India to Central Europe and especially to Germany. In the early Middle Ages, monks were the first gold beaters in Germany. They used the manufactured gold leaf for their book illumination. The Theophilus manuscript (12th century) descriped the method of the gold beating process at that time.
Later secular craftsmen took over this craft and settled mainly in the major commercial cities and especially in the imperial capital of Nuremberg. The first gold beater in Nuremberg was mentioned in 1373. Primarily, the gold beater craft in Nuremberg is a liberal craft (craft without organisation and law) and was converted in 1554 into a “sworn craft”.
The metropolitan area Nuremberg – Fürth – Schwabach became the world centre for gold leaf fabrication.
The first mentioned gold beater in written records in the city of Schwabach was Jakob Ratzer in 1572. In the following centuries, more and more gold beaters from Nuremberg and Fürth settled in Schwabach. The top of this development was reached in 1926. During this time, there were 127 companies employing a total of 739 people in Schwabach.