Repairs to the Gold Torque

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The torque before and after repair

This article was first published in the 1989 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

The definitive article on the discovery of Jersey's famous Bronze Age Gold Torque is that by Nicolle (1912) but see also Hawkes (1937).

He describes and figures the torque as it finally was when it came into the ownership of the Société Jersiaise some two months after workmen found it in sand behind the present site of the Grand Hotel.

Rough treatment

Unfortunately the torque received rough treatment in the interval between its finding and the time it came into the safe keeping of the Societe, though Nicolle states definitely that when first discovered it was in the form of trois cercles superposes plus ou moins deformes et enfonces. The accompanying picture which shows the torque at one stage during its repair, best illustrates the deliberate damage done.

At the time of its illustration in 1912 the torque was in the five pieces shown. The ring attached to the small piece of coil had been soldered on to create a small keepsake and the mark of pliers can be discerned on one of the terminals.

The decision to repair the damage done to the torque after its discovery was taken principally for aesthetic reasons, though with the clear feeling that none of its scientific value would be lost in the process, because the precise original shape is uncertain.

There was some doubt as to the final shape into which the torque should be formed. Both single and double coiled gold torques occur as well as more complicated spirals. Because of the uncertainty as to the original shape, it was decided not to suggest a spurious accuracy by restoring a complicated spiral, but to make a simpler coil. The eventual double coil was created purely because a single circle would have produced a rather unwieldly ornament some 40 cm across.

The work of repair and restoration was carried out by B Nimmo at the Research Laboratory of the British Museum over the period April to November 1973. The account that follows was prepared by Mr Nimmo to record the process used and the changes made.

Reshaping the Torque

The first stage in reshaping the Jersey gold torque was to discover if it was at all possible to straighten the main body purely by hand. It proved possible to obtain the general shape of a complete circle by hand manipulation. The wearing of soft leather gloves assisted considerably.

It was now possible to correct the many imperfections on the edges of the twisted cross-section. Circular section pieces of hard wood and brass of the correct diameter to fit between the flanges were made up and gently tapped into the damaged sections.

This opened them up and so restored the even flow of the twist. Finally, the brass pieces were used as small anvils and the gold tapped over them with a small, shaped, bone-headed mallet, in order to remove, as far as possible, roughness on the flanges. A small section at one end which proved stubborn was annealed, but this appeared to have very little softening effect on the gold, so the method described previously was perservered with to obtain the final result.

The terminals next received attention. The one with the 'cut off' piece was repaired by lining up the two faces, using universal clamps, and soldered in position with Easy-Flo hard solder manufactured by Johnson Matthey. The surplus solder was removed by careful use of a scraper and fine file. The final finish was produced on a small, high-speed rotary mop. The other terminal had to have the small section of cross flange reshaped and carefully opened out on to the return bend by tapping apart with a hard wooden wedge.

Severe impact

The work done has clearly enhanced the future security of the torc fragments and has guarded against future losses. However, by today's standards, the work done must be regarded as having an unnecessarily severe impact on the torc.

Most importantly, the removal of metal and the disguising of the joints would today be avoided as far as possible.

As to the final shape, all would admit to the problems of the conflict between the aesthetic demands of display and of the preservation of archaeologically important data. Given that the exact original shape was unknown there would have been considerable merit in restoring the reassembled torc to the form in which it was discovered, as shown in Nicolle's photograph.

The contrast between the magnificence of the object and the roughly coiled state in which it was found is striking enough. What must be regarded as unacceptable is a reconstruction to a shape the torc almost certainly never had. Nicolle correctly points to the torc's importance as a member of a small class of particularly massive section, the other two members being from the Tara I hoard, Co Meath and from Ysceifiog, Clwyd.

Both these torcs are presently in the form of single circles and there is no evidence that either was ever different. The massive Tara torc, as well as a number of others, have diameters around 400 mm or more, so size is certainly no barrier to a single loop.

Indeed, single loops appear to be very much in the majority, with around 70 of these torcs where sufficient information is available to describe the torc fully. Of the 30 which have multiple coils, only the unusual short example from Yeovil certainly has two coils. Thus, if the decision to restore the torc to a particular finished shape is accepted, that restoration should have been to a single loop.

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