English Victorian Copy, 1880,
A Victorian copy of an original residing in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, this burgonet is a stunning example of 19th century electrotyping techniques.
In the Victorian era, the growing merchant class presented a problem for those of noble rank. Rising from common roots, yet possessing wealth sometimes greater than the nobility, the merchant class began to be capable of wielding significant power. Many nobles found themselves deeply in debt to these merchants, further eroding their power. The advance of the Renaissance left many merchants with expansive holdings of their own to rival the hereditary families of the era. As these merchants gained their wealth they would often spend it on art and cultural pursuits, yet lacked the inherited material wealth (such as family heirlooms, weapons, and armor) that would be present in noble families. This was one reason for the advent of Victorian copies of historical arms and armor.
Many such copies would be reproduced in a similar fashion as the historical arms and armor themselves – forged by a smith using traditional techniques. However, when reproducing finely detailed pieces that were as much art as they were functional articles of war considerably more skill would be required. The newly discovered practice of electrotyping drastically simplified this process.
By running an electrical current through a solution of sulfuric acid and copper sulfate, copper can be bonded exactly to a pre-made mold. Electrotyping was used to make copies of wooden carvings, printing press plates, coins, and – eventually – historical artifacts including exquisite pieces of armor such as the one in this collection. A revolutionary process, electrotyping allowed the growing merchant class to possess exact copies of the artifacts their noble counterparts had held for generations. From those merchants come many pieces in museums and private collections.