The Gold Book

When I was a schoolboy, I used to neglect my homework and do various things which were outside of school rules. This meant that I spent a lot of time fearing being caught.

When I grew up and became a goldsmith, I was required to keep a “Precious Metals Register” or Gold Book. Nowhere else in the world does a craftsman have to account for materials in this way, and the system goes back to the days of Rhodes, who wished to set up and control who may and who may not handle gold. Under these laws, simply possessing unwrought gold (or uncut diamonds) was a crime, unless one had a permit and kept a record of every tenth of a gram of gold.

gold book

At one stage I got my apprentice to keep the book, and it is her handwriting you see above.

The gold book was, of course, never as accurate as it was supposed to be. How could it be? Jewellers are often handy people with no talent for figures, or dyslexic. Jeweller friends talked of “writing poetry” to make the gold book balance with the gold one had on hand, and we lived in dread of a visit by the Gold & Diamond Squad, a branch of the South African Police.

Since 1994 the system was done over, and the control of precious metals and diamonds has fallen to a new office, that of the Registrar. We don’t have to keep the old Book any more, though we are required to keep a register of our gold use, and computers make this (and any “poetry” that may be required) a lot easier.

The old Gold Book got flooded, mold grew on it, and it was dined on by fish moths. The other day I was about to chuck it out, but I thought I should rather make something of it to mark all the years of anxiety that it signified.

Here’s what I made, using water-colours and collage. If you click on it, you can see it big.

Gold Book. Mixed media.

Gold Book. Mixed media.

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