Gilded acorns, walnuts and pine cones were popular Christmas tree decorations in the Victorian era.
‘Gilded cones […] a pretty Christmas tree decoration. Go to the wood or park to which you live nearest and gather a quantity of cones which you will find under most pine trees.
Buy a bottle of bronze and gild the cones thoroughly. After this is done and your cones have been dried attach a piece of wool or ribbon to every one, so that you can hang them at various places on the Christmas tree.’ (New-York Tribune, 1907)
I love how the Victorian gilded walnuts that I made two years ago turned out! Therefore I decided to make Victorian gilded acorn ornaments this year.
Related: Victorian Gilded Walnuts
‘Acorns may be gilded or silvered with good effect […] some rather thickly-mixed gold paint will then complete a most effective ornament for Christmas tree use, or to lighten up a lamp-shade of dark rich tones, or a mass of sombre drapery.’ (The Savannah Morning News, 1903)
When To Collect Acorns For Gilded Acorns
Gather acorns in late summer and early fall. Sometimes, you can still find acorns in winter or even spring. But these acorns have usually already begun to sprout and are then unsuitable for gilded acorns.
Gilded Natural Christmas Ornaments
Beside acorns, you can also gather other natural nuts, seeds and leaves and paint them with gold paint as natural Christmas ornaments. In the picture above, you can also see gilded beechnut shells and Oregon grape leaves.
‘These are the days of the year when the ingenious sojourner in the country finds a perfect treasure store of suggestion and material in the infinite varietey of seeds that Nature fashions for tree, herb and vine. […]
The seed balls of the sycamore and sweetgum are very ornamental, when gilded or silvered and tied with bright ribbons in festoon-like clusters.’ (The Savannah Morning News, 1903)
History Of Gold Paints
Instead of expensive gold leaf, the Victorians and Edwardians usually used gold paints to gild acorns. In the Victorian and Edwardian era, paints and varnishes were usually made of natural ingredients, such as linseed oil, tree resin, turpentine and natural pigments. Around 1900, gold paints were made with bronze powder and natural copal varnish. However, there was also a non-natural alternative made with celluloid varnish.
‘Gold paints […] consist of a bronze powder mixed with a varnish. The best bronze powder for the purpose is what is known in the trade as “French flake,” a deep gold bronze. This bronze, as seen under the microscope, consists of tiny flakes or spangles of the bronze metal.
As each minute flake forms a facet for the reflection of color, the paint made with it is much more brilliant than that prepared from finely powdered bronze. […] The finish is surprisingly durable, and in color and luster is a very close imitation of real gold-leaf work.’ (Henley’s Twentieth Century Formulas, Recipes And Processes, 1916)
How To Make DIY Golden Acorns
- gold acrylic paint
- wood glue (or other glue)
- optional: ribbon or string
Glue Acorns & Cups Together
Using wood glue (or other glue), glue the acorns and cups together and allow to dry for some hours.
‘The nuts should be removed from the cups and replaced with a drop of glue, or they are apt to drop out when dry’ (The Savannah Morning News, 1903).
If you want to paint an acorn spray with gold paint, attach the leaves to the twig with a piece of wire before gilding.
‘Acorns may be gilded or silvered with good effect if a twig with leaves is selected. […] The leaves should be caught to the stem with a very fine thread of wire, as they, too, are given to parting company with the twig at inopportune times.’ (The Savannah Morning News, 1903)
Paint acorns with gold acrylic paint. Because acorn shells are so smooth, acorns are more difficult to paint than walnuts: The brush strokes are more visible.
Allow the gilded acorns to dry at least overnight.
Tie a piece of ribbon or string to the stems of the gilded acorns to hang on your Christmas tree.
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