Metal reproductions and the Treasures of Ireland

What is a replica?

A replica is an object which is made to look like an existing artefact. The objects in this exhibition were made around 100 years ago to look like artefacts which are 800-1200 years old.

Supply and demand

The demand for plaster copies of Irish high crosses was generally restricted to industrial exhibitions and museums. On the other hand, metal replicas of other objects such as brooches were mass-produced by a number of jewellers in Dublin (Waterhouse and Company, Dame Street; West & Son, College Green; William Acheson & Company Grafton Street; Edmond Johnston Ltd, Grafton Street and Hopkins & Hopkins of O’Connell Street).

Replicas and fashion

The fashion of wearing replica jewellery was instigated in 1851 when Queen Victoria purchased a copy of the Cavan brooch at the Great Exhibition, held at Crystal Palace, London. In 1850 the ‘Tara’ brooch was discovered and passed to Waterhouse & Company, who subsequently presented it as one of the main objects of archaeological interest at the Great Exhibition where copies were available for sale.

Edmond Johnson's catalogue

In 1879 Edmond Johnson, one of Dublin’s foremost goldsmiths, started restoration work on the Ardagh Chalice and was later given permission to make copies of it and other objects. The replicas were much sought after with Johnson’s own catalogue listing the Chicago (1893), Paris (1900) and Glasgow (1901) expositions as well as ‘the principle museums of America, Great Britain and the Continent’ among his clients.


Electrolysis was employed in replica manufacture in the nineteenth century. Electrotypes are made by submerging a lead-coated plaster mould, taken from the original object, in a copper sulphide solution. Copper is deposited on the mould when an electric charge is applied to the solution. This reproduces accurately the surface of the original object. The replica is then pieced together, coloured and inlayed with decorative panels or studs.

Die stamping

Stamping using a die was a common way of mass-producing decorative panels or sections of replicas. A single die or stamp was manufactured bearing the inverted image of the required decorative panel. The die or stamp was then applied, with force, against a thin sheet of metal and the decoration embossed on the surface. A single die could be used numerous times. In some cases the stamp would cut the decoration away from the parent sheet of metal. Once the panels were stamped and cut the replica was pieced together, coloured and inlayed with decorative panels or studs.

Replicas in the Exhibition

(Please note that all images of the metal objects are of the original artefacts)

Tau crosier, 12th century AD

Replica of the Tau Crosier is used in the exhibition as similar crosiers can be seen on the crosses.

Shrine of St Patrick’s Bell, Armagh, Co. Armagh. 12th century AD

The Shrine of St Patrick’s Bell was regarded as one of the most important relics of the early Irish church.

The Cross of Cong, Roscommon, Co. Roscommon. 12th century AD

Replicas of the Cross of Cong were popular and over seven are known. They can be found in churches and museums in Ireland, Britain, the United States and Australia.

Shrine of the Book of Dimma, Roscrea, Co Tipperary. 12th century

A replica of this book shire is used in the exhibition as it shares decoration with some of the crosses.

Crucifixion Plaque, Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly. 11th -12th century

It has been suggested that arrangement of the crucifixion scenes on Irish High Crosses may have been influenced by scenes depicted on plaques such as the Clonmacnoise example.

Bossed penannular brooch, find place unknown. 9th or 10th century AD

Some replicas were manufactured using similar materials as the original objects.

Ardagh hoard, Reerasta, Co. Limerick. 9th century AD

Six replicas representing the four brooches of the Ardagh Hoard are in the exhibition.

The Hunterston Brooch, Ayrshire, Scotland. 8th century AD

Two replicas of this brooch are used in the exhibition, one is a miniature while the other is to scale.

Thirteen individual capitals from ilumanated manuscripts

In the absence of ways of replicating manuscripts highly decroated capitals or fills were copied in metal and sold as collectors sets.

The Dalriada Brooch, Loughan, Co Derry 8th century AD

The replica of this brooch differs from the original as it those not have a curving pin.

Figure of an ecclesiastic, Aghaboe, Co. Laois. 8th century AD

This replica was exhibited in Brussels during Europalia 2007.

The ‘Tara’ brooch, Bettystown, Co. Meath. 8th century AD

A replica 'Tara' brooch is used in the exhibition, this replica was found in a field near Enfield Co. Meath in 2002.

The Ardagh Chalice, Reerasta, Co. Limerick. 8th century AD

A replica of the Ardagh Chalice is located at the entrance to the main exhibition space.

Bone motif-piece, Lagore, Co. Meath. 8th Century AD

Pieces of animal bone such as the piece from Lagore were used by craftsmen to pratice trial patterns. These patterns were later used on metal objects.

Pair of D-shaped mounts. 8th century AD

Replicas of two fragments of a house shrine currently housed in Paris.

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