C Wilmer's note to Chapter 2 of King Of The Golden River by J Ruskin

The goldsmith's trade had great significance for Ruskin. This is not surprising, as it brings so many of his interests together: beauty in art and nature, craftsmanship, geology and wealth. In Letter 22 of Fors Clavigera (1872) he notes that

'all the great early Italian masters of painting and sculpture, without exception, began by being goldsmiths' apprentices'.

Gold is something of a crux in Ruskin's thought. It is valued, rightly, because it is beautiful and durable; it is one of the gifts of nature which man can graciously adapt to his uses. But when it becomes, as it does for the Black Brothers, a source of greed — becomes in effect a token of one man's power over another — then it ceases to have a value that avails for life.

Note, too, that the brothers intend to adulterate their gold. Adulteration was, for Ruskin, one of the products of capitalism that most clearly condemned it. It showed that the desire for profit could lead the producer to betray his calling — that the capitalist was motivated by selfishness, not by any wish to provide for the community.