A Dictionary of Arts: Enamels.

A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines; containing A Clear Exposition of Their Principles and Practice

by Andrew Ure, M. D.;
F. R. S. M. G. S. Lond.: M. Acad. M. S. Philad.; S. PH. DOC. N. GERM. Ranow.; Mulh. Etc. Etc.

Illustrated with nearly fifteen hundred engravings on wood
Eleventh American, From The Last London Edition.
To which is appended, a Supplement of Recent Improvements to The Present Time.

New York: D Appleton & company, 200 Broadway. Philadelphia: George S. Appleton, 148 Chestnut St.


ENAMELS (Emaux, Fr.; Schmelzglas, Germ.) are varieties of glass, generally opaque and colored, always formed by the combination of different metallic oxydes, to which certain fixed fusible salts are added, such as the borates, fluates, and phosphates.

The simplest enamel, and the one which serves as a basis to most of the others, obtained by calcining first of all a mixture of lead and tin, in proportions varying from 15 to 50 parts of tin for 100 of lead. The middle term appears to be the most suitable for the greater number of enamels; and this alloy has such an affinity for oxygen, till it may be calcined with the greatest case in a flat cast-iron pot, and at a temperature not above a cherry red, provided the dose of tin is not too great. The oxide is drawn off the sides of the melted metal according as it is generated, new pieces of the alloy being thrown in from time to time, till enough of the powder be obtained. Great care ought to be taken that no metallic particles be left in the oxyde, and that the calcining heat be as low as is barely sufficient; for a strong fire frits the powder, and obstructs its subsequent comminution. The powder when cold is ground in a proper mill, levigated with water, and elutriated, as will be described under Red lead. In this state of fineness and purity, it is called calcine, or flux, and it is mixed with silicious sand and some alkaline matter or sea-salt. The most ordinary proportions are, 4 of sand, 1 of sea-salt, and 4 of calcine. Chaptal states that he has obtained a very fine product from 100 parts of calcine, made by calcining equal parts of lead and tin, 100 parts of ground flint, and 200 parts of pure subcarbonate of potash. In either case, the mixture is put into a crucible or laid simply on a stratum of sand, quicklime spontaneously slaked, or wood-ash placed under a pottery or porcelain kiln. This mass undergoes a semi-vitrification; even a complete fusion on its surface. It is this kind of frit which serves as a radical to almost every enamel; and by varying the proportions of the ingredient, more fusible, more opaque, or whiter enamels are obtained. The first of these qualities depends on the quality of sand or flux, and the other two on that of the tin.

The sea-salt employed as a flux may be replaced either by salt or tartar, by pure potash, or by soda; but each of these fluxes gives peculiar qualities to the enamel.

Most authors who have written on the preparation of enamels, insists a great deal the necessity of selecting carefully the particular sand that should enter into the composition of the frit, and they even affirm that the purest is not the most suitable. Clouet states, in the 34th volume of the Annales de Chimie, that the sand ought to contain at first 1 part of talc for 3 of silicious matter, otherwise the enamel obtained is never every glassy, and that some wrinkled spots from imperfect fusion are seen on its surface; and as we find prescribed in some old treatises, to make use of ground flints, fritted by means of salt of tartar or some other flux. It would thence appear that the presence of talc is of no use towards the fusibility of the silica, and that its absence may be supplied by increasing the dose of the flux. In all cases, however, we ought to beware of metallic oxides in the sand, particularly those of iron and manganese, which most frequently occur, and always injure the whiteness of the frit.

The ancients carried the art of enamelling to a very high perfection, and we occasionally find beautiful specimens of their work, of which we know neither the composition, nor the manner of applying it. Then, as at present, each artist made a mystery of the means that succeeded best with him, and thus a multitude of curious processes have been tried with their authors. Another cause contributes powerfully to this sort of declension in the arts. Among the vast number of recipes which have been published for the formation of enamels, there are several in which substances are mentioned that can no longer be procured; whether owing to a change of denomination, or because the substances cannot now be found in commerce, or because they are not of the same nature as of old. Hence, in many cases, we find it impossible to obtain satisfactory results. What we have ow said renders it desirable that the operations should be resumed anew, or upon new bases, and availing ourselves of all the known chemical facts, we should employ in the production of enamels, raw materials of the purest kind.

The Venetians are still in possession of the best enamel processes, and they supply the French and other nations with the best kinds of enamel, of every coloured shade.

Enamels are distinguished into transparent and opaque; in the former all the elements have experienced an equal degree of liquefaction, and are thus run into crystal glass, whilst in the others, some of their elements have resisted the action of heat more, so that their particles retain sufficient aggregation to prevent the transmission of light. This effecet is produced, particularly by the oxide of tin, as we shall perceive in treating of white enamel.

The frits for enamels that are to be applied to metallic surfaces require greater fusibility and should therefore contain ore flux; and the sand used for these should be calcined beforehand with one fourth its weight of sea-salt; sometimes, indeed, metallic fluxes are added, as minium or litharge. For some metallic colours, the oxydes of lead are very injurious, and in this case recourse must be had to other fluxes. Clouet states that he had derived advantage from the following mixtures, as bases for purples, blues, and some other delicate colours: -

Three parts of silicious sand, one of chalk, and three of calcined borax; or, three of glass (of broken crystal goblets), on of calcined borax, one fourth of a part of nitre, and one part of well washed diaphoretic antimony. These compositions afford a very white enamel, which accords perfectly well with blue.

It is obvious that the composition of this primary matter may be greatly varied; but we should never lose sight of the essential quality of a good enamel; which is, to acquire, at moderate heat, sufficient fluidity, to take a shining surface, without running too thin. It is not complete fusion which is wanted; but a pasty state, of such a degree as may give it, after cooling, the aspect of having suffered complete liquefaction.

Dead-white Enamel. - This requires greater nicety in the choice of its materials than any other enamel, as it must be free from every species of tint, and be perfectly white; hence the frit employed in this case should be itself composed of perfectly pure ingredients. But a frit should not be rejected hastily because it may be somewhat discolored, since this may depend on two causes; either on some metallic oxydes, or on fuliginous particles proceeding from vegetable or animal substances. Now the latter impurities may be easily removed by means of a small quantity of peroxyde of manganese, which has the property of readily parting with portion of its oxygen, and of thus facilitating the combustion, that is to say, the destruction of the colouring carbonaceous matter. Manganese indeed possess a colouring power itself on glass, but only in its highest state of oxidizement, and when reduced to the lower state, as is done by incombustible matters, no longer communicates colour to the enamel combinations. Hence the proportion of manganese should never exceed what is just; for the surplus would cause color. Sometimes, indeed, it becomes necessary to give a little manganese color, in order to obtain a more agreeable shade of white; as a little azure blue is added to linens, to brighten or interact the dulness of their yellow tint.

A white enamel may be conveniently prepared also with a calcine composed of two parts of tin and one of lead calcined together; of this combined oxyde, one part is melted with two parts of fine crystal and a very little manganese, all previously ground together. When the fusion is complete, the vitreous matter is to be poured into clear water, and the frit is then dried, and melted anew. The pouring into a water and fusion are sometimes repeated four times, in order to secure a very uniform combination. The crucible must be carefully screened from smoke and flame. The smallest portions of oxide of iron or copper admitted into this enamel will destroy its value.

Some practitioners recommend the used of washed diaphoretic antimony (antimonium of potash, from metallic antimony and nitre deflagrated together) for white enamel; but this product cannot be added to any preparation of lead or other metallic oxydes; for it would tend rather to tarnish the colour than to clear it up; and it can be used therefore only with ordinary glass, or with saline fluxes. For three parts of white glass (without lead) one part of washed diaphoretic antimony is to be taken; the substances are well ground together, and fused in the common way.

Blue enamel. - This fine colour is almost always obtained from the oxide of cobalt or some of its combinations, and it produces it with such intensity that only a very little can be used, lest the shade should pass into black. The cobalt blue is so rich and lively that it predominates in some measure over every other color, and masks many so that they can hardly be perceived; it is also most easily obtained. To bring it out, however, in all its beauty, the other colours must be removed as much as possible, and the cobalt itself should be tolerably pure. This metal is associated in the best known ores with considerable number of foreign substances, as iron, arsenic, copper, nickel, and sulphuret, and it is difficult to separate them completely; but for enamel blues, the oxide of cobalt does not require to be perfectly free from all foreign metals; the iron, nickel, and copper being most prejudicial, should be carefully eliminated. This object may be most easily attained by dissolving the ore in nitric acid, evaporating the solution to a syrupy consistence, to expel the excess of acid, and separate a portion of arsenic. It is now diluted with water, and solution of carbonate of soda is dropped slowly into it with brisk agitation, till the precipitate, which is at first of a whitish gray, begins to turn of a rose-red. Whenever this colour appears, the whole must be thrown on a filter, and the liquid which passes through must be treated with more of the carbonate of soda, in order to obtain the arseniate of cobalt, which is nearly pure. Since arsenic acid and its derivatites are not capable of communicating colour themselves, and as they moreover are volatile, they cannot impair the beauty of the blue, and hence this preparation affords it in great perfection.

Metallic fluxes are not the most suitable for this color; because they always communicate a tint of greater or less force, which never fails to injure the purity of the blue. Nitre is a useful addition, as it keeps the oxide at the maximum of oxidation, in which state it produces the richest color.

Yellow Enamel. - There are many processes for making this colour in enamel; but it is somewhat difficult to fix, and it is rarely obtained of a uniform and fine tint. It may be produced directly with some preparations of silver, as the phosphate or sulphate, but this method does not always succeed, for too strong a heat or powerful fluxes readily destroy it, and nitre is particularly prejudicial. This uncertainty of success with the salts of silver causes them to be seldom employed; and oxydes of lead and antimony are therefore preferred, which afford a fine yellow when combined with some oxydes that are refractory enough to prevent their complete vitrification. One part of white oxide of antimony may be taken with from one to three parts of white lead, one of alum, and one of sal-ammoniac. Each of these substances is to be pulverized, and then all are to be exactly mixed, and exposed to a heat adequate to decompose the sal-ammoniac. The operation is judged to be finished when the yellow colour is well brought out. There is produced here a combination quite analogous to that known under the name of Naples yellow.

Other shades of yellow may be procured either with the oxide of lead alone, or by adding to it a little red oxide of iron; the tints varying with the proportion of the latter.

Clouet says, in his memoir on enamels, that a fine yellow is obtained with pure oxide of silver, and that is merely necessary to spread a thin coat of it on the spot to be colored. The piece is then exposed to a moderate heat, and withdrawn as soon as this has reached the proper point. The thin film of metallic silver revived on the surface being removed, the place under it will be found tinged of a fine yellow, of hardly any thickness. As the pellicle of silver has to be removed which covers the color, it is requisite to avoid fixing this film with fluxes; and it ought therefore to be applied after the fusion of the rest. The yellows require in general little flux, and they answer better with one of a metallic nature.

Green Enamel. - It is known that a green colour may be produced by a mixture of yellow and blue; but recourse is seldom had to this practice for enamels, as hey can be obtained almost always directly with the oxide of copper; or still better with the oxide of chrome, which has the advantage of resisting a strong beat.

Chemists describe two oxydes of copper, the protoxide, of an orange red color, which communicates its colour to enamels, but it is difficult to fix; the deutoxide is blue in the state of hydrate, but blackish-brown when dry, and it colours green all the vitreous combinations into which it enters. This oxide requires, at most, one or two proportions of flux, either saline or metallic, to enter into complete fusion; but a much smaller dose is commonly taken, and a little oxide of iron is introduced. To four pounds of frit, for instance, two ounces of oxide of copper and 48 grains of red oxide of iron are used; and the ordinary measures are pursued for making very homogenous enamel.

The green produced by the oxide of chrome is much more solid; it is not affected by a powerful fire, but it is not always of a fine shade. It generally inclines too much to the old-leaf yellow, which depends on the degree of oxygenation of the chrome.

Red Enamel. - We have just stated that protoxide of copper afforded a fine colour when it could be fixed, a result difficult to obtain on account of the fugitive nature of the oxyde; slight variations of temperature enabling it to absorb more oxygen. The proper point of fusion must be seized, for taking it from the fire whenever the desired colour is brought out. Indeed, when a high temperature has produced peroxidizement, this may be corrected by adding some combustible matter, as charcoal, tallow, tartar, &c. The copper then returns to its minimum of oxidizement, and the red colour which was vanished, reappears. It is possible, in this way, and by pushing the heat a little, accomplish the complete reduction of a part of the oxyde; and the particles of metallic copper is to boil a solution of equal parts of sugar, and sulphate or rather acetate of copper, in four parts of water. The sugar takes possession of a portion of the oxygen of the cupreous oxyde, and reduces it to the protoxide; when it may be precipitated in the form of a granular powder of a brilliant red. After about two hours of moderate ebullition, the liquid is set aside to settle, decanted off the precipitate, which is washed and dried.

This pure oxyde, properly employed by itself, furnishes a red which vies with the fines []nine, and by means every tint may be obtained from red to orange, by adding a water or smaller quantity of peroxyde of iron.

The preparations of gold, and particularly the oxide and purple of Cassius, are likewise employed, with advantage, to colour enamel red, and this composition resists a powerful fire tolerably well. For some time back, solutions of gold, silver, and platinum have been used with success instead of their oxydes; and, in this way, a more intimate mixture may be procured, and, consequently, more homogeneous tints.

Black Enamel. - Black enamels are made with peroxyde of manganese or protoxide of iron; to which more depth of colour is given with a little cobalt. Clay alone, melted with about a third of its weight of protoxide of iron, gives, according to Clouet, a fine black enamel.

Violet Enamel. - The peroxyde of manganese in small quantity by itself furnishes, with saline or alkaline fluxes, an enamel of a very fine violet hue; and variations of shade are easily had by modifying the proportions of the elements of the coloured frit. The great point is to maintain the manganese in a state of peroxidation, and consequently to beware of placing the enamel in contact with any substance attractive of oxygen.

Such are the principal coloured enamels hitherto obtained by means of metallic oxydes; but since the number of these oxydes is increasing every day, it is to be wished that new trials is made with such as have not yet been employed. From such researchers some interesting results would unquestionably be derived.

Of painting on Enamel. - Enamelling is only done on gold and copper; for silver swells up and causes blisters and holes in the cost of enamel. All enamel paintings are, in fact, done in copper or gold.

The goldsmith prepared the plate that is to be painted upon. The gold should be 22 carats fine: if purer, it would not be sufficiently stiff; if coarser, it would be subject to melt; and its alloy should be half white and half red, that is, half silver and half copper; hereby the enamel with which it is covered will be less disposed to turn green, than if the alloy were entirely copper.

The workmen must reserve for the edge of the plate a small fillet, which he calls the border. This ledge serves to retain the enamel, and hinders it from falling off when applied and pressed on with a spatula. When the plate is not to be counter-enamelled, it should be charged with less enamel, as, when exposed to heat, the enamel draws up the gold to itself, and makes the piece convex. When the enamel is not to cover the whole plate, it becomes necessary to prepare a lodgement for it. With this view, all the outlines of the figure are traced on the plate with a black-lead pencil, after which recourse is had to the graver.

The whole space enclosed by the outlines must be hollowed out in bas-relief, of a depth equal to the height of the fillet, had the plate been entirely enamelled. The sinking of the surface must be done with a flat graver as equally as possible; for if there be an eminence, the enamel would be weaker at that point, and the green would appear. Some artists batch the bottom of the hollow with close lines, which cross each other in all directions; and others make lines or scratches with the end of a file broken off square. The hatchings or scratches lay hold of the enamel, which might otherwise separate from the plate. After this operation, the plate is cleansed by boiling it in an alkaline ley, and it is washed first with a little weak vinegar, and then with clear water.

The plate thus prepared is to be covered with a coat of white enamel, which is done by bruising a piece of enamel in an agate or porcelain mortar to a coarse powder like sand, washing it well with water, and applying it in the hollow part in its moist state. The plate may meanwhile be held in an ordinary forceps. The enamel powder is spread with a spatula. For condensing the enamel powder, the edges of the plate are struck upon with this spatula.

Whenever the piece is dry, it is placed on a slip of sheet iron perforated with several small holes, see fig. 375, which is laid on hot cinders; and it is left there until it ceases to steam. It must be kept hot till it goes to the fire; for were it allowed to cool it would become necessary to heat it again very gradually at the mouth of the furnace of fusi[] to prevent the enamel from decrepitating and flying off.

Before describing the manner of exposing the piece to the fire, we must explain the construction of the furnace. It is square, and is shown in front elevation in fig. 3. It consists of two pieces, the lower part A, or the body of the furnace, and the upper part B, or the capital, which is laid on the lower part as is shown in fig. 377, where the two parts are separately represented. The furnace is made of good fire-clay, moderately baked, and resembles very closely the assay or cupellation furnace. Its inside dimensions are 9 inches in width; 13 inches in height in the body, and 9 in the capital, Its general thickness is 2 inches.

The capital has an aperture or door C, fig. 376, which is closed by a fire-brick staple m, when the fire is to be made active. By this door fuel is supplied.

The body of the furnace has likewise a door D, which reaches down to the projecting shelf K, called the bib (mentonnière), whose prominence is seen at E, fig. 376. This shelf is supported and secured by the two brackets F, F; the whole being earthenware. The height of the door D is abridged by a peculiar fire-brick G, which not only covers the whole projection of the shelf E, but enters within the opening of the door D, filling its breadth, and advancing into the same plane with the inner surface of the furnace. This plate is called the hearth; its purpose will appear presently; it may be taken out and placed at pleasure, by laying hold of the handle in its front.

Below the shelf K, a square hole, H, is seen, which serves for admitting air, and for extracting the ashes. Similar holes are left upon each side of the furnace, as is shown in the ground plan of the base, fig. 377, at H H H.

On a level with the shelf, in the interior of the furnace, a thin fire-tile I rests, perforated with numerous small holes. This is the grate represented in a ground view in fig. 375. Figs. 378, 379, 380, represent, under different aspects, the muffle. Fig. 377 shows the elevation of its further end; fig. 379 its sides; and fig. 380 its front part. At J, fig. 377 the muffle is seen in its place in the furnace, resting on two bars of iron, or, still better, on ledges of fire-clay, supported on brackets attached to the lateral sides of the furnace. The muffle is made of earthenware, and as thin as possible. The fuel consists of dry beech-wood, or oaken branches, about an inch in diameter, cut to the length of 9 inches, in order to be laid in horizontal strata within the furnace, one row only being placed above the muffle. When the muffle has attained to a white-red heat, the sheet iron tray, bearing its enamel plate, is to be introduced with a pair of pincers into the front of the muffle, and gradually advanced towards its further end. The mouth of the muffle is to be then closed with two pieces of charcoal only, between which the artist may see the progress of the operation. Whenever the enamel begins to flow, the tray must be turned round on its base to ensure equality of temperature; and as soon as the muffle surface is melted, the tray must be withdrawn with its plate, but slowly, lost the vitreous matter be cracked by sudden refrigeration.

The enamel plate, when cold, is to be washed in very dilute nitric acid, and afterwards in cold water, and a second coat of granular enamel paste is to be applied with the requisite precautions. This, being passed through the fire, is to be treated in the same way a third time, when the process will be found complete. Should any chinks happen to the enamel coat, they must be widened with a graver, and the space being filled with ground enamel, is to be repaired in the muffle. The plate, covered with a pure white enamel, requires always to be polished and smoothed with sandstone and water, particularly if the article have a plane surface; and it is then finally glazed in the fire.

The painting operation now follows. The artist prepares his enamel colours by pounding them in an agate mortar, with a pestle of agate, and grinding them on an agate slab, with oil of lavender, rendered viscid by exposure to the sun in a shallow vessel, loosely covered with gauze or glass. The grinding of two drachms of enamel pigment into an impalpable powder, will occupy a laborer a whole day. The painter should have alongside of him a stove in which a moderate fire is kept up, for drying his work whenever the figures are finished. It is then passed through the muffle.

Enamelling at the Lamp. - The art of the lamp enameller is one of the most agreeable and amusing that we know. There is hardly a subject in enamel which may not be executed by the lamp-flame in very little time, and more or less perfectly, according to the dexterity of the artist, and his acquaintance with the principles of modelling.

In working at the lamp, tubes and rods of glass and enamel must be provided, of all sizes and colours.

The enamelling table is represented in fig. 373, round which several workmen, with their lamps, may be placed, while the large double bellows D below is set a-blowing by a treadle moved with the foot. The flame of the lamp, when thus impelled by a powerful jet of air, acquires surpriding intensity. The bent nozzles or tubes, A A A A, are made of glass, and are drawn to points modified to the purpose of the enameller.

Fig. 374 shows, in perspective, the lap A of the enameller standing in its cistern B, the blowpipe C is seen projecting its flame obliquely upwards. The blowpipe is adjustable in an elastic cork D, which fills up exactly the hole of the table into which it enters. When only one person is to work at a table provided with several lamps, he sits down at the same side with the pedal of the bellows; he takes out the other blowpipes, and plugs them holes in the table with solid corks.

The lamp is made of copper or tin-plate, the wick of cotton threads, and either tallow or oil may be used. Between the lamp and the workman a small board or sheet of white of iron B, called the screen, is interposed to protect his eyes from the glare of light. The screen is fastened to the table by a wooden stem, and it throws its shadow on his face.

The enamelling workshop ought to admit little or no daylight, otherwise the artist, not perceiving his flame distinctly, would be apt to commit mistakes.

It is impossible to describe all the manipulations of this ingenious art, over which taste and dexterity so entirely preside. But we may give and example. Suppose that enameller wishes to make a swan. He takes a tube of white enamel, seals one of its ends hermetically at his lump, and while the matter is sufficiently hot, he blows on it a minikin flask, resembling the body of the bird; he draws out, and gracefully bends the neck; he shapes the head, the beak, and the tail; then, with slender enamel rods of a proper color, he makes the eyes; he next opens up the beak with pointed scissors; he forms the wings and the legs; finally attached the toes, the bird stands complete.

The enameller also makes artificial eyes for human beings, imitating so perfectly of colours of the sound eye of any individual, as to render it difficult to discover that he has a blind and a seeing one.

It is difficult to make large articles at the blowpipe; those which surpass 5 or 6 inches become nearly unmanageable by the most expert workman.

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