Copper Electrotype Statuary

The construction methods, problems and treatment techniques associated with copper electrotype statuary.

Electrotype sculptures were made using an electroplating technique developed in the 1830s. Statues were constructed in sections, using multiple negative moulds into which copper was deposited from solution in electroplating tanks. They were, thus, built up from the outside inwards, and so retain every detail or mark of the original mould.

The resulting electrodeposited copper sections were then carefully cleaned and joined together by brazing or soldering. Copper formed in this way is quite brittle, so complex objects such as equestrian statues needed armatures to add strength and prevent collapse.

The excitement of using a new technique mainly prompted the interest in electroplating. Although the material costs were lower, labour and production were not necessarily cost-effective because many of the electrotype statues were one-offs. Smaller, decorative arts-type objects were reproduced in numbers.

Electrotypes can be artificially patinated in the same way as bronzes and can, therefore, easily be mistaken for bronzes.

Common problems

ELectrotype sculptures have very thin copper shells. This makes them particularly susceptible to corrosion if the protective surface coatings are not well maintained.

Treatment and repair

Repairs are made using copper sheet or weak areas reinforced with fibreglass resin. New stainless steel armatures and structural fixings often replace the old iron supports. Protective coatings of wax or lacquer must also be applied.