Bronzing Baby’s Shoes (Nov, 1949)

Coolest product name ever: Nukemite, by Nukem Products Corp., Buffalo, NY.

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Bronzing Baby’s Shoes

How to transform your baby’s first pair of walkers into a permanent keepsake.

By Ken Murray

IT is said that the electroplating of baby shoes was conceived when a Scotchman saw a suit of armor during a visit to his ancestral home. Nowadays the “metalizing” of baby’s first shoes is reaching an astonishing popularity, based mostly on the permanence given such articles when they are protected against time with a coating of metal. Copper is the metal most commonly used, and it is enduring enough in itself, but for further protection and attractiveness the encasement of copper may be plated over with gold, silver or nickel. The electroplated shoes are stiff and rigid and may be displayed mounted or unmounted as permanent keepsakes.

Almost all kinds of baby shoes may be plated, including those with soft soles, creepers, and even knitted “shoes.”

The shoes are first cleaned. Alcohol, and ” sometimes soap and water, are ordinarily used for cleaning, but the author prefers lacquer thinner. It is generally sufficient to rub the shoes with a little of the thinner on a clean cloth. Of course, if the shoes have been waxed or oiled, cleaning will have to be much more thorough.

A special grade of fast-dying water-clear lacquer is required for preparing the shoes prior to plating. Also, it is necessary to use a special bronze powder because some paint shop varieties are not suited for this purpose. By writing for the catalogs of the firms listed below, who make a specialty of plating shoes, you will be certain to receive the right lacquer and bronze powder as well as any other supplies required.

Warner Electric Co., Inc., 1512 Jarvis Avenue, Chicago 26, 111.

Kiktavi Co., 2111 W. Manchester, Los Angeles 44, Calif.

Craft Finishes, P. O. Box 467, Arlington, Virginia.

The shoes can be lacquer-hardened by dipping, brushing or spraying. It is best to thoroughly soak the leather with lacquer from the inside first, by pouring a quantity inside the shoe. Turn the shoe about in various positions so that the toe as well as other sections will be well permeated. Allow the shoes to dry thoroughly, then coat the outside with two or three applications. If the lacquer you use is heavy it must be thinned, but do not allow it to pile up on the outside so as to cover details of the shoe construction. Be particularly careful not to cover the creases and fine wrinkles of the leather which were caused when the shoes were worn by the child, for to do so would be to destroy the personality of the shoe.

When the first outside coat of lacquer is tacky, gently press the tied laces down so that they will adhere to the sides of each shoe. This is necessary to prevent damage after the shoes are plated, particularly during the buffing and polishing operations.

You will require some means of holding each shoe without touching it with the hands, while lacquering and carrying out subsequent operations. Use an ice pick for a handle. The hole which will be left in the back of the shoe can pass the wire for suspending it from the cathode.

Leather will not conduct electricity, so you must first coat the surface with graphite or copper powder. This is dusted on the shoe surface after it has been made tacky. Finely powdered graphite is suitable and was the only material used for many years. Fine copper bronze powder has been found much more satisfactory because it is a better conductor. For plating baby shoes, copper powder is sold in ready-for-use form. If you use ordinary copper powder, it will first have to be washed thoroughly with lacquer thinner to remove oil and grease. The leather-hardening lacquer sold by the supply dealers is recommended by them as a good base for graphite or copper powder. Tests made by the author indicated that you may have trouble because the lacquer dries so fast that the period of tackiness is very short and critical. A more satisfactory powder base is black asphaltum (such as the Glidden brand) made into a very thin varnish with turpentine. It retains its tackiness for a longer period and, in the case of copper powder, makes easier visual examination as to complete coverage.

Give the shoe a thin but complete coating of the asphalt varnish, making sure to cover sole and lacing crevices and as much of the inside of the shoe as possible. As soon as the varnish is tacky, lightly dust on the conductive powder with a wide soft brush. Use care not to entangle the brush in the varnish. Work quickly, piling the powder on heavily. Inspect for bare spots. Allow the varnish to dry, then gently brush off the surplus powder. Do not touch the prepared surface with the hands.

It is necessary to weight each shoe so that it will remain underneath the surface of the electrolyte or plating solution, instead of floating to the top. A handful of glass marbles dropped inside the shoe will give it sufficient weight.

The plating process consists in connecting the work to the negative side of a direct current source and suspending it as the cathode in a tank of electrolyte. The solution consists of a copper salt, acid and water. Opposite the work a sheet or bar of pure copper is suspended as the anode; it is connected to the positive side of the current source. Distance of the work from the anode should not be less than 3 in. When there is sufficient space in the tank, one copper anode is used on each side of the work. For even plating when only one anode is used, the work must be reversed during half of the plating time.

A gallon crock can be used. A glass tank, available from supply houses, will permit use of two anodes and the plating of two shoes at a time. A well-constructed, tight-fitting wood box can be made into a serviceable plating tank. It must be well lined with a compound not affected by plating chemicals. Thick asphalt varnish can be used, but it is subject to cracking under strain. A thoroughly satisfactory material is sold by Nukem Products Corp., Buffalo, N. Y., under the name “Nukemite.” It is acid and chemical-proof and dries quickly to a tough, rubber-like film.

Frequent agitation or stirring of the electrolyte will give faster and more even plating, because the path between anode and cathode is constantly being depleted of metal. Stirring can be done with a hard rubber paddle.

Make up the following solution:

Copper sulphate 1-3/4 lbs.

Sulphuric acid 3-1/2 oz.

Water 1 gallon

Dissolve the copper sulphate in hot water, then add cold water to make a gallon. When the solution is cool, slowly stir in the acid. Handle the latter carefully; it is highly corrosive.

For small plating jobs of this nature it is customary to use an ordinary 6-volt storage battery as the current source. If you plan on doing very much plating, it is a good plan to purchase a small 6-volt dry-disk rectifier, in the form of a battery booster. A good buy is the Allstate Battery Booster sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co. for $14.45. It is rated at 10 amperes and will easily handle the plating of two shoes at one time.

Referring to the wiring diagram, it will be seen that a voltage regulator between the current source and the plating tank is required. This takes the form of a small variable rheostat of about 6 ohms resistance and capable of handling up to 10 amperes.

A 0-4 or 0-6 D. C. voltmeter is connected across the circuit in series with a simple on-off switch. Note from the photo that the entire control unit can be mounted on a panel for ease in making input and output connections. It is a simple matter to connect the clips from the battery booster, if one is used. Attach battery clips to the ends of the output wires for ease in connecting them to the anode and to the cathode bar. The latter, from which the work is suspended, is a rod or bar of aluminum or copper. A similar bar can be used to suspend the copper anode when it does not project above the solution level.

As previously mentioned, after the shoes have been conductively coated they should be handled as little as possible and must not be touched with the hands at all. To commence plating, hang the shoe from the cathode bar. Be sure that the hanger makes contact with the conductive coating. Turn on the current and adjust the rheostat so that half of the resistance is in the circuit. Slowly immerse the shoe in the electrolyte, using a glass pusher rod if necessary. Let it hang from the cathode bar and at least 3 in. from the anode. Adjust the rheostat so that the voltmeter reads from 3 to 5 volts.

Remember to have the current turned on when you immerse the work in the tank, and when you remove it.

When the work is first introduced into the tank a higher voltage will be required until the current has had time to bridge across the individual grains of copper which form the conductive coating. You can watch the plating “creep” over the work. Only a few minutes will be required in the case of copper powder, and longer in case you used graphite. When the initial plating film has covered the work, reduce the current to IV2 volts and leave it there for completion of the job.

At 1/2 volts the plating should have a rose color and will remain smooth and even. If you use too high a voltage, the work will take on a burned appearance and the deposit will be spongy.

An hour or two will be required for a good plating job which is heavy enough to withstand buffing and chemical treatment afterwards. If you wish an especially heavy plate, remove the work after 30 minutes and lightly scratch brush it. A brass-wire suede shoe brush is good for this operation. Do not plate too heavily as details are then obliterated.

It may happen that when you examine a shoe while it is being plated, small portions or spots refuse to slate. These defects should be caught at once. Dry the shoe with a clean cloth and gently cover the spots with very thin lacquer. Dust some more copper powder over the repair, making sure that it holds well.

A fingernail polish bottle, with brush, is a good container for the thin touch-up lacquer.

After you have plated a number of shoes you may find that the deposit is becoming rough. This may happen when the anode area is considerably larger than that of the work and is the result of more copper being taken into the solution from the anode than is deposited on the work. This depletes the amount of free acid, which can be restored by adding more. When the anode area is considerably less than that of the work, the amount of free acid will likewise increase, up to a point where plating becomes difficult to control. This condition is also met with when the anode copper is of a type less easily carried into solution. The remedy is to add a little copper carbonate to neutralize some of the free acid. After the electrolyte has been in use for some time there will be a sludge that accumulates on the bottom of the tank. This will do no harm, but be careful to remove any foreign particles floating on the surface as it will cause roughness in the deposited metal. Assuming that you have plated the shoes to your satisfaction, remove them from the tank and rinse off the plating chemicals. You may wish to keep them in this state, a smooth but unpolished copper color. In that case, give the shoes a thin coating of jewelers’ grade protective lacquer, which is invisible when dry-In either the polished or unpolished state the shoes can be given a “statuary bronze” coloration chemically. Simple immersion in a dilute, “warm solution of potassium sulphide will accomplish this. A somewhat larger range of sulphide colors can be secured, according to the time of immersion, with 2 oz. potassium sulphide dissolved in a gallon of water, to which 1/2 oz. ammonia has been added. Use this solution cold.

In finishing the shoes illustrated, an antique green effect was desired. To secure this effect the work is first scratch-brushed and then treated with a special two-tone antique formula, which results in a green coloration against a soft brown background. Use this formula: Water 2 oz.

Sal ammoniac 68 grains Copper nitrate 170 grains Sodium chloride 170 grains Glycerine 6 drops Five or six drops of glycerine are usually sufficient; it is added to control the drying rate of the compound when it is brushed evenly over the shoes. After the shoes are completely dry, gently wipe them with a damp cloth. This will wipe the green coloration from the highlights but allow it to remain in the hollows. The sections from which the green has been removed will have the brown color. Dry the shoes and coat them with the protective lacquer mentioned.

If you wish to make a photo statuette, a thick walnut base in the required size is suggested. One edge is recessed for the statuette. Finish it with one coat of lacquer sealer and two or three coats of clear lacquer; rub it down well and then apply a coat of furniture polish.

An enlarged photograph is glued to a piece of thin, sturdy material, such as black Masonite, and the figure cut from it as shown in the photograph. •

  1. Al Bear says: January 12, 200912:29 am

    I always thought bronzed baby shoes were tacky. (when I was 10 and I still do at 36) I’m I the only one who thinks so?

  2. Charlie says: January 12, 20091:03 am

    Al Bear: Of course they’re tacky. Unless they are made with Nukemite, then they’re Nuketastically cool!

  3. Neil Russell says: January 12, 200911:18 am

    I always figured the places that offered bronzing just threw away the shoes and sent back a casting that was all metal.
    To demonstrate what a family of procrastinators I come from, my mom was going to have my baby shoes bronzed. I just found the yet-to-be-bronzed shoes in a box at her house and she recounted her desire to have the bronzing done. After all, it’s only been since 1961.

    If only I had known they would be Nukemated!! Nukemitemated?

  4. Don says: January 12, 200912:56 pm

    There’s that flocking ad again (p. 138)!!

  5. Toronto says: January 12, 20091:34 pm

    Don – amazingly enought, this project actually USES flocking, too. It’s on the back of the “photo statuette” (see caption 3, pg 97.)

    Is Nukemite like Vegemite but more glowy?

  6. slim says: January 12, 20092:48 pm

    When I was a teenager, I spray painted an old pair of loafers with bronze paint and gave them to my Mom as a joke. She actually kept them. Mothers are funny.

  7. Charlie says: January 12, 20093:01 pm

    Don: Nels Irwin was an evil genius!

  8. Eliyahu says: January 12, 20095:44 pm

    When I was a toddler in 1950, bronzed baby shoes were the hot thing for young parents. I’ve still got mine. It’s nice to see how they did it then.

  9. MrG says: January 12, 20097:12 pm

    I have this vague memory the old DOBIE GILLIS show, with Bob Denver in his pre-Gilligan incarnation as beatnik Maynard G. Krebs (“WORK?!”) proudly showing off his bronzed tennis shoes.
    He didn’t want to throw them out you see …

    Cheers — MrG / http://www.vectorsite.n…

  10. Bob Kaynes says: January 19, 20094:05 pm

    In case anyone wants to have their shoes bronzed today (baby shoes OR any other shoes or keepsakes), just let the professionals do it…the folks who have bronzed over 13,000,000 baby shoes in real metal sicne 1934, the American Bronzing Company. Sentimental parents everywhere are having this done again. Now it’s your turn to continue the tradition or start one of your own. And the prices are VERY reasonable.

    Ck out for keepsakes you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

  11. Melissa Garcias says: August 30, 20106:36 pm

    I would greatly appreciate it if you would please provide me with your telephone number for your place of business WARNER ELECTRIC CO. 1512 Jarvis Ave.,Chicago, IL.

    Thank you!!

  12. Firebrand38 says: August 30, 20106:44 pm

    Melissa Garcias: Someone needs to provide you with a calendar! This article is from 1949. Who is this “you” you’re asking?

    The only thing at that address is a Public Storage Company

  13. Wendy Miller says: July 22, 20117:34 pm

    Some may think baby memories are tacky, I do not. Had my daughter’s first walking shoe done in 91. Now planning to have my granddaughter’s done for her. No, they do not merit a ‘special’ place among any decor however; can be put in private rooms for a lifetime keepsake.

  14. Alison says: September 10, 20112:29 am

    I have my babies first shoes. I would like to send them to someone who can bronze them.
    Any suggestions ?

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