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Galvano.  An electroform; a medallic item or a pattern made by electrolysis. In medallic work, a galvano is always one-sided and made by placing a bas-relief mold or pattern (of plaster, plastic or metal) in an electrolytic tank containing an electrolyte solution. The mold forms the cathode. Pure bars of copper (or silver, gold or other pure metallic element which conducts electricity) furnish the material which forms the anode. A weak electric current (dc) is introduced to create a circuit; ions leach off the anode, travel through the electrolyte by the process of electrolysis to deposit on the cathodic mold. This metallic deposit builds up one ion at a time. In time a sufficient thickness develops, it can be removed from the electrolyte and the galvano is separated from the mold.

Galvanos can be made positive or negative (provided the pattern is the opposite: a positive pattern makes a negative galvano). In the numismatic and medallic field negative galvanos are the form of pattern making of a bas-relief to be converted into a die. Galvanos are ideal for use on a pantograph, a  die-engraving pantograph, where they can be modeled oversized and reduced to any size die (by ratio of from 10- to 3-to-1). This includes coin dies and medal dies from six inches to charm size.

However, since positive galvanos can be electrolytically cast in permanent metal form, they are often held in esteem because of this three-dimensional form in the exact size of the artist’s original model. When given a patina finish they look exactly like the coin or medal made from that oversize pattern. These positive galvano casts are often mounted on wood and become a very desirable wall hanging. In the later decades of the 20th century very popular medals, like presidential inaugural medals, were issued in galvano form as well as medallic form.

History of galvanos.  Galvano is named after an Italian, Luigi (or Alolsio)

Galvani, who, in 1791, first observed electric current. Michael Faraday, an Englishman, developed the generation of direct current in the 1830s. But it was a German, Moritz Herman von Jacobi (1801-1874), who developed, in 1837, the process using electric current he called "galvanoplasty" which today is known as electgroforming.

The British immediately embraced this process to create electroplating, obtaining the first patents in 1840. The British also used this process to replicate, or duplicate, existing small bas-relief objects. The British Museum, in 1859, appointed a sealmaker, Robert Cooper Ready (1811-1901), to electroform objects – including coins and medals – in the Museum's collections. In his lifetime Ready made over 22,000 of these, and his son, Augustus P. Ready carried on after him.  See electrotype.

Galvanos were employed by mints to prepare oversize patterns for pantographic reduction – replacing iron foundry casts – because of their much finer detail and sharp, crisp edges of relief (while lettering was still imparted with punches). Mints in Italy, France and later England, employed galvanos. A writer on minting technology in Italian mints, related how this technology was in use by 1879. (See Bibliography, F3 Sacchetti.)

Galvanos as an art form.  As soon as German Moritz Jacobi developed his

"galvanoplasty" process in 1837 it was considered as an art technique. However German medalists disregarded the new three-dimension casting method, continuing to prefer instead, their customary hand engraving. It was the Austrian, French and English artists –particularly wax modelers – who quickly embraced the process to convert their models into permanent metal form.

Austrian Henri Kautsch displayed 29 galvanos in the 1910 medallic exhibition at the American Numismatic Society in New York. An earlier British sculptor and wax modeler, John Henning (1771-1851) reproduced his first galvano from a model he had created in 1821: Raphael's Death of Ananias. There was somewhat slow acceptance in all but one European country.

It was France, by contrast, which embraced this process as a new art form, creating art objects electroformed from patterns created specifically for the new process.. Bas-reliefs were ideal for this. Such patterns could be worked in clay, wax or plaster and electroformed into a permanent metal media. French artists liked this process because their finely detailed bas-reliefs with sharp, crisp detail and lettering could be reproduced with extreme fidelity. French medalists excelled in this work, including Jules Clément Chaplain, René Gregory, Alphonse Eugène Lechevrel, Louis Oscar Roty, Frédéric Vernon, and others.

Galvanos in America. The Philadelphia Mint used bronze or iron casts made from artist’s plaster models, in their reducing machines until about 1935. At that time, mint-made copper galvanos (electrolytic dieshells) become common and eventually replaced iron or bronze casts. However, galvanos were frequently used for large display pieces such as emblems and ornamental metal work. The electrolytic dieshell was filled with lead, tin or other solid material before further use. This gave the thin copper metal deposit strength and durability.

In the early 1880s two young artists came to America. Jules Edouard Roiné (1857-1916), who learned the technique in his native France and brought this technology with him, was one. Victor David Brenner (1871-1924), was the other. Brenner had learned engraving in his native Lithuania, came to America and practiced engraving but traveled to France in 1898 to learn the process of modeling oversize, and galvano production.

By 1909 Roiné had formed a partnership with Felix Weil (who, after Roiné's departure from America in 1915, was to join his brother Henri Weil to build Medallic Art Company). Roiné and Felix made galvano medals and plaques as a major part of their sculptural repertoire.

In 1910 both Roiné and Brenner exhibited their galvanic creations (among other medallic creations) in the International Exhibition of Contemporary Medals held at the American Numismatic Society. Both embraced this art medium and showed more galvano medallic art than any other American exhibitors at that time, firmly establishing galvanos as an art medium in America, but not, unfortunately, in the numismatic field.

Mounting galvanos.  Like all bas-reliefs, positive galvanos should be attached to something. Ideal for wall mounts, they are known for decorating furniture, any small wooden object, and such objects as finely bound books. The later are called mounts for book covers, and an example is illustrated. The typical brown patinas that can be applied to copper galvanos are most attractive with a wood background, thus are often mounted on walnut and other woods.

Numismatists' use of the term.  The word galvano was so unknown in the

numismatic field that a writer as late as 1962, Walter Thompson, in his pamphlet "How United States Coins Are Made" (run serially in the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine) called it "Galvana" not only misspelling it, capitalizing it and enclosing it in quotations marks. This was copied by other numismatic writers even up to 1971, writing on silver dollars for example. Despite the fact a large number of galvano medallic items were displayed in the 1910 exhibition at the American Numismatic Society (an excellent catalog of this exhibit was published), and galvanos were selling in the art field. The numismatic field should have been aware of the term and the technology for their creation but was not.

In 1912 the United States Treasury Department published a catalog of the

United States coin and medal collection (now in the Smithsonian); it was compiled by numismatist Thomas L. Comparette. He introduced the word "galvanotype" (perhaps like electrotype). However, this term never caught on; only galvano is used today.

The word galvano is derived from galvanoplastics or electrogalvanic, terms within the overall field of electrometallurgy.  See also electroform, electroforming for more on the technology.


     How To Tell A Galvano From A Cast or Struck Object  


    In general:  Galvanos are always uniface. (But a     

    two-sided object can be made by affixing two galvnos

    together – look for the seam.)                      


    Galvanos are always sharper and crisper in detail    

    and lettering than either a diestruck piece or a cast

    piece. Detail on galvanos can be created down to the

    width of a molecule – literally a few microns in width.   


    Look at the back: on the back of galvanos appear     

    the ghost of the relief on the front. Also electro-  

    forming has the tendency to grow "trees" – stray    

    seeds of metal (or dust particle) which get coated 

    with metal and continues being coated. These appear  

    as nodules, tiny buds of metal.  

    Also on the back of galvanos may be a filler metal,

    as lead or solder, that is applied to strengthen the

    thin electroform shell. The metal is usually added

    at the lowest points – the high points on the front.                   


    Die-struck objects can reproduce detail down to a    

    thousandth of an inch. Detail is as sharp as the     

    original pattern but was reduced (with only a tiny   

    fraction of detail is lost) in reducing and cutting the



    Cast objects are softer in appearance, without sharp 

    corners of detail and lettering. This is due to the  

    meniscus of molten material – not being able to fill

    a sharp angle. Detail is sharp down to a hundredth   

    of an inch.                                          


F3     {1879} Sacchetti.

O6    {1911} American Numismatic Society.

NC4 {1912} Comparette.

C45  {1962} Thompson.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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