The Bronze Age
Products in the House.
Design Implementation – Production Methods.
Uses of Copper and its Alloys.
New, Reproduction, Fake or Original?.
Analysis of Composition.
Dating Copper and Brass.
Copper and brass have been used for centuries for the
production of functional, attractive items for the home. These started with
cookware and lighting products and soon included large quantities of useful,
decorative items for all rooms. The colour and comfortable warmth of the
metals were highlighted by attractive, stylish designs that caught the
imagination of the householders and the eyes of visitors. Design trends
have varied with fashion and have been frequently revived. Today’s
designers do well to study and perhaps obtain inspiration from products that
are still appreciated years after they were made.
Pre-dynastic Egyptians knew copper very well and in hieroglyphs copper was
represented by the ankh symbol
also used to denote eternal life, an early appreciation of the lifetime
cost-effectiveness of copper and its alloys. The Greeks adopted a similar
copper as perhaps the most important of the thirteen elements that they
The Copper Age
earliest copper smelting furnace and workshop found so far is at Timma in
Southern Arabah, Israel and dates from the Chalcolithic period in the 5th
millennium BC. It has been accurately dated to 4460 BC and is near a site
still used for mining.[i]
Pre-dynastic Egyptians knew copper very well and in hieroglyphs copper was
represented by the ankh symbol
also used to denote eternal life, an early appreciation of the lifetime
cost-effectiveness of copper and its alloys. The Egyptians obtained most of
their copper from the Red Sea Hills.
older civilisation based on the
also new copper and well developed smelting techniques. The earliest known
artefacts made from smelted metal were copper, and excavations at Catal
Huyuk near Konya in Southern Anatolia, showing slags derived from the
smelting of copper, have been provisionally dated to as early as 7,000 BC.
Other civilisations in the Near and Middle East, Hindustan and China also
developed the use of the vital metal.
referred to the metal as ‘Chalkos’; the Copper Age is therefore referred to
as the Chalcolithic Age. Roman writings refer to copper as ‘aes Cyprium’
since so much of the metal then came from Cyprus.
The Bronze Age
workers knew that the addition of quantities of tin to copper would result
in a much harder substance. This alloy, bronze, was probably the first
alloy made and found particular favour for cutting implements. Many finds
have proved the use of both copper and bronze for many purposes before 3,000
of the earliest bronzes known come from excavations at Sumer, and are of
considerable antiquity. The co-smelting of ores of copper and tin to make
bronze would have been either accidental or the outcome of early
experimentation to find out what kinds of rock were capable of being
appreciation of quality in bronze depending on the tin content emerged only
slowly. Consistency of composition of bronzes dates back to about 2,500 BC
at Sumer, with bronzes commonly containing 11 - 14% tin - reasonable
evidence both of technological forethought and the appreciation of
metallurgical and founding properties. Indications of bronze production as
far back as 2,800 BC come from places as far apart as India, Mesopotamia and
Egypt, and make a single origin for bronze smelting significantly further
back in time a strong possibility.
by land and sea, and the succession of cultures and empires, had dispersed
knowledge of the copper-based metals slowly but surely throughout the Old
World. By 3,000 BC it had spread across Europe and North Africa to the
British Isles, and in other directions as far as India and China. Copper,
bronze, copper-arsenic, leaded copper, leaded bronze and arsenical tin
bronzes were all known by this date in most parts of the
‘Oetzti’, the 5,000-year-old mummified man found in 1991 high in the Alps on
the Italian-Austrian border was found with many implements including an
excellent arsenical copper axe. It seems that he was probably a coppersmith
himself, since his hair had high concentrations of copper and arsenic, which
could probably have come from no other source.
Alloys containing zinc were also emerging at this time, from Cyprus and
Palestine, though the alloying is believed to have been natural in origin,
due to the local ore containing some smeltable zinc minerals. Alloys
similar to modern gunmetals were being cast before 1,000 BC, though the
proportions of copper, tin, zinc and lead were not well established.
Following the emergence of true brasses in Egypt in the first century BC,
the industrious and methodical Romans rapidly consolidated the knowledge and
usage of copper, bronzes, brasses and gunmetals.
founding originated in China before 1,000 BC and in time Chinese bell design
attained good technical sophistication. The technology spread eventually
through Asia and Europe to Britain, where early evidence of bell making has
been dated to around 1,000 AD, through excavation of a bell casting pit at
Several important books were written during the Middle Ages concerning the
extraction, smelting, casting and forging of copper. These established that
the casting and working of copper and its alloys had its origins in craft
traditions and practices that had developed over several thousand years.
How much of this was originally handed down in writing is not known, since
it is only from medieval times that the written tradition in technology is
unbroken. It is through the Christian monastic and Islamic cultural
traditions that detailed accounts of these early technologies have
survived. The writings of the monk Theophilus in the 11th Century and of
Georgius Agricola and Johannes Mathesius in the 16th Century, all describe
in detail the metal producing technologies of their day. Often these had
changed little for centuries.
output from the Bronze Age mines was considerable - an assessment based on
old mine maps and studies of prehistoric workings at Mitterberg in the
Austrian Alps indicated that about 20,000 tons of black copper had been
produced there over the period of the Bronze Age. In Britain, the most
important Bronze Age mine was probably at the Great Orme near Llandudno in
North Wales. The earliest mines in Britain were in the Cork-Kerry area of
there were several more in
and important mines in England were at Alderly Edge, near
Judging by the artefacts found, reserves in Scotland may also have been
worked in Bronze Age times. Many of these were in and near the Western
Isles and the ease of shipping meant that this was the commercial centre of
Scotland at this time
copper was the usual product of ancient smelting and contained about 98%
copper. It was traded as flat cakes weighing a few kilograms for later
refining to purer copper by ‘poling’.
Significant engineering uses had been found for copper as early as 2,750 BC,
when it was being used at Abusir in Egypt for piping water. Copper and
bronze were employed for the making of mirrors by most of the Mediterranean
civilisations of the Bronze Age period. Legend has it that the Greek
goddess of Love, Aphrodite, appeared out of the sea of Cyprus looking at her
reflection in a copper mirror. This has been said to show that the oldest
profession is, in fact, metallurgy.
by the Romans has obscured developments in
at that time. It is only quite recently that evidence of the considerable
engineering skills of the Carthaginians has emerged, including the earliest
known use of gear wheels, cast in bronze. Bronze was used in many of the
artefacts of every day Roman life - cutlery, needles, jewellery, containers,
ornaments, coinage, knives, razors, tools, musical instruments and weapons
of war. The Roman invasion of Britain was probably strongly influenced by
the need to secure the resources of copper and tin in Cornwall and copper
North Wales at the Great Orme, Parys Mountain and elsewhere. The pattern of
use tended to be repeated wherever the smelting of bronze and copper was
introduced, though necessarily on different time scales. The New World and
Africa lagged in these developments by 3,000 - 3,500 years because of the
distance and isolation of these areas from the trade routes that loosely
bound the ancient world. In America, native copper was found in the Great
Lakes region and was being worked and used by the locals long before the
oldest methods for removing rock from underground mines were the
sledgehammer and wedge and the equally ancient technique of fire setting. In
the latter case a fire set up against a rock face would produce thermal
stresses - the rock would either crumble naturally or could be shattered by
water quenching. It was some time after the Islamic world introduced
blasting powders to Europe in the 13th century, from
that explosives were first used specifically for mining.
Middle Ages and Beyond
some rich mines near Keswick in
were worked as early as 1250 and no doubt production continued in Cornwall
and North Wales although not again of great importance to the economy until
the early 18th century. The invention of printing increased the
demand for copper because of the ease with which copper sheets could be
engraved for use as printing plates. In Germany, playing card designs were
engraved on copper as far back as 1430. Copper plates have long been
adopted as the best means of engraving maps. The first known maps printed
from copper plates are two Italian editions, dated 1472, by the geographer
reduce dependence on European copper and brass, the Society of Mineral and
Battery Works was established in 1565 for the production of copper and brass
They set up factories at sites throughout the country. Besides naval needs
for cladding and cannon, the main demand was for wire for the combs vital to
the wool trade. In 1568 a monopoly organisation, The Mines Royal, was set
up by Queen Elizabeth I to undertake mining and extraction of copper in
England and Wales. Mining was re-developed in Cumberland at Keswick and in
Westmorland. The intention was to make the Country self sufficient and by
1625 it was possible to recognise this with a heavy duty on imports.
Copper had been extracted at
Mountain in Anglesey since before Roman times. The body of ore was so rich
that water flowing from the mountain was rich in copper. As early as 1579
there was an experiment to win this at low cost by the use of settling
basins loaded with iron scrap. This precipitated the copper very
successfully and later became a standard technique. Extraction of copper
from sites on Parys Mountain was developed successfully by local and other
businessmen. In 1775, James Watt patented his design of steam engine. This
made it possible to pump water from mines much more economically. It also
increased demand for copper for boilers. In 1787 a consortium was formed
including Thomas Williams (Anglesey),
John Vivian (Cornwall), Matthew Boulton and James Watt (Birmingham).
Their aim was the joint marketing of copper from Anglesey and Cornwall so
that the price would provide venture capital to cover further exploration
and extraction. During the years 1819 to 1826 the output from
was over 9,000 tons of ore per year, yielding 600 tons of copper. This made
it the biggest copper mine in the world at that time. The ore was initially
shipped to Swansea for refining but as competition developed, also to
Cheadle in the Peak District where Thomas Patton had set up in 1734 to
refine the local ore from the land of the Duke of Devonshire. Later it
became economic to establish a new refinery near the docks at Liverpool.
Initially this dealt with ore from North Wales but later from other imports.
Copper has other important uses at sea, as copper sheathing of the hulls of
wooden ships was introduced in the middle of the 18th century. This was
intended to protect the wood against shipworm when in warm seas. It was
found that it also kept the hulls free of barnacles and other marine growth,
preventing the consequent severe drag that slowed the ships. This enabled
Nelson’s ships to spend many months on blockade duty and still be swift when
battles commenced. The tonnage of copper needed had a significant effect on
the price in Britain and the prosperity of the industry. Now, copper-nickel
cladding can be applied to wood, polymer or steel hulls to prevent the
fouling of ships operating at higher speeds.
the early 18th century
was becoming a major copper centre and by 1860 was smelting about 90% of the
world’s output. Much of this was controlled by the Cornish Vivian family.
At first, Swansea obtained most of its ore from many mines in
and also Anglesey. Mining of the rich deposit in the Great Orme at
Llandudno was restarted. Eventually the shafts went down to six levels.
The spoil heaps that were formed obscured evidence of the earlier Bronze Age
workings but these have now been re-excavated and are an interesting visit.
Workings of a similar period have also now been found at
Mountain despite the large open pit resulting from 19th Century
extraction. These are not easily available because of the very acidic
nature of the mine water.
Around 1800, Morwelham on the River Tamar was the world’s largest copper
port, exporting copper from
and Devon to South Wales. Ireland has several significant copper deposits
that were developed at this time. Scotland also has sources of copper but
they were a long way from the refineries. They were not long commercial
except where the copper was found with silver, as up in the Ochills outwith
Stirling. As industry developed and other sources were found abroad, almost
all ores were imported. The smelting of the ores subsequently moved nearer
the sources of supply.
During the 19th century
became the main centre for fabricating non-ferrous metals in Britain, a
position that is still held. Many major developments in the copper industry
emanated from the Birmingham area.
In 1832 George Muntz patented a process
for the manufacture of brass consisting of 60% copper and 40% zinc.
method for the application of electrolysis to the refining of crude copper
was invented by a
silver-plater, James Elkington, in 1864 and led to the establishment of the
first such plant in Swansea in 1869.
Towards the end of the 19th century Alexander Dick introduced the
fundamental new process of hot extrusion for making brass rod from billet.
This was originally by the River Thames in Greenwich, London but the process
rapidly developed in Birmingham and surrounding districts.
far the greatest extension in the use of copper resulted from Michael
Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831 and the subsequent
development of the electrical engineering industry.
The use of copper as a roofing material
will continue to grow. In many countries it is well accepted as a standard
material needing only basic support structures for its low weight. The
colour of the patina developed is much appreciated and the long
maintenance-free lifetime much valued. Until recently the low lifetime cost
had not been quantified, but now that authoritative figures are available it
is being appreciated as much as an economic roofing material as for its
has been made for almost as many
centuries as copper but has only in the last millennium been appreciated as
an engineering alloy. Initially, bronze was easier to make using native
copper and tin and was ideal for the manufacture of utensils. While tin was
readily available for the manufacture of bronze, brass was little used
except where its golden colour was required. The Greeks knew brass as
‘oreichalcos’, a brilliant and white copper.
Several Roman writers refer to brass,
calling it ‘Aurichalum’. It was used for the production of coinage such as
sesterces and many Romans also liked it especially for the production of
golden coloured helmets. They used grades containing from 11 to 28 per cent
of zinc to obtain decorative colours for all types of ornamental jewellery.
For the most ornate work the metal had to be very ductile and the
composition preferred was 18%, nearly that of the 80/20 gilding metal still
Before the 18th century, zinc metal
could not be produced in
Europe, since it melts at 420oC
and boils at about 950oC,
below the temperature needed to reduce zinc oxide with charcoal. In the
absence of native zinc it was necessary to make brass
by mixing ground smithsonite ore (calamine) with copper and heating
the mixture in a crucible. The heat was sufficient to reduce the ore to
metallic state but not melt the copper. The vapour from the zinc permeated
the copper to form brass, which could then be melted to give a uniform
Up to Elizabethan times most supplies
Cologne (Cullen Plate) on the Rhine since there were good copper deposits in
and Calamine, the zinc ore, up the
River at Aachen. Cast brass plates were poured to 3 to 5mm thickness with a
composition approximately 66/34. These were hammered and planished to give
a smooth surface for engraving and enamelling on plates up to 900 x 900mm
(3ft square). Larger monuments were made by matching plates side by side
with care for continuity of the artwork. By the end of the 16th
century supplies of plate were available from Bristol. This was thinner,
and slightly softer, than imported supplies. On occasions, some were
recycled by being turned over and re-cut.
In Mediaeval times there was still no
source of pure zinc. When
Swansea, in South Wales, was effectively the centre of the world’s copper
industry, brass was made by direct cementation from calamine found in the
Mendip hills in Somerset.
One of the principal users of brass was
the woollen trade, on which prosperity depended prior to the industrial
revolution. In Shakespearean times, one company had a monopoly on the
making of brass wire in
England. This caused significant quantities to be smuggled in from mainland
Europe. Later the pin trade became very
important, about 15-20% of zinc was usual with low lead and tin to permit
trouble-free cold working to size. Because of its ease of manufacture,
machining and corrosion resistance, brass also became the standard alloy
from which were made all accurate instruments such as clocks, watches and
navigational aids. The invention by
Harrison of the chronometer in 1761 depended on the use of brass for the
manufacture of an accurate timekeeper that won him a prize of £20,000.
There are many examples of clocks from the 17th and 18th centuries still in
good working order.
With the coming of the industrial
revolution, the production of brass became even more important. In 1738,
William Champion was able to take out a patent for the production of zinc by
distillation from calamine and charcoal, a process carried out in a closed,
reducing atmosphere so that the zinc did not re-oxidise. This gave great
impetus to brass production in
Bristol. Incidentally, it is probable that distillation was in use in India
during the 8th-10th
centuries and also in China, well before the
practice was in use in
Wire was initially produced by hand,
drawing it in many stages from strips cut from plate made by ‘battery’ in
stamp mills. Although the first rolling mill in
Swansea was installed at Dockwra in 1697, it was not until the mid-19th
century that powerful rolling mills were generally introduced. The Dockwra
works specialised in the manufacture of brass pins, the starting stock being
a plate weighing about 30kg. This was cut in to strips, stretched on a
water-powered rolling mill and given periodic inter-stage anneals until
suitable for wiredrawing.
With the invention of 60/40 brass by
Muntz in 1832, the higher zinc content made it possible to make cheap, hot
workable brass plates. These supplanted the use of copper for the sheathing
of wooden ships to prevent biofouling and worm attack. Muntz was one of the
small number on inventors who have made good money after patenting their
ideas. His family continued the business after his death.
With improvements in water
communications, the centre of the trade moved to
Birmingham to be nearer to fuel supplies and to facilitate central
distribution round the country. With the invention of the extrusion press
in 1894, Alexander Dick revolutionised the production of good quality cheap
Products in the House
In the kitchen are found kettles, saucepans, skillets,
strainers and other tools. The fireside is frequently the focal point of
the décor of a living room and can be equipped with fire surrounds,
firescreens, andirons, trivets bellows, toasting forks and ale warmers.
Much lighting equipment is made of brass whether the light comes from gas,
oil, candles or electricity. Tableware needs trays, food warmers, gongs,
stands, jugs, dishes, tea and coffee pots, flatware and many other
accessories from corkscrews to nutcrackers. The home office uses paper
knives, penstands, inkwells, paper weights, paper clips, letter racks,
tobaccanalia and money boxes. In the bedroom there can be brass beds,
candlesticks, water cans, warming pans, toilet items, buttons, buckles,
curtain rails and metal framed mirrors. In sitting rooms can be found many
types of copper and brasswares such as jardinières, bookends and decorative
souvenirs and ornaments with sentimental attachments. All round the house
can be found architectural hardware including hinges, knobs, knockers,
finger plates, locks, stair fittings and window furniture. Some
products have been marked by their proud makers and where available the
marks have been listed. Marks List
Design Implementation -
Besides the influences of fashions, the design of the
domestic copper and brasswares just mentioned has altered as production
methods have changed and become more economical. With care it is possible
to update production methods and still maintain the qualities for which the
metals are chosen so that items are still satisfying for the user.
Metal Working and Finishing
has always been the most obvious way of making shaped articles and is
usually an essential preliminary to subsequent forming. Good quality sand
and lost wax casting methods were well established prior to 1820. Since
then die casting in permanent moulds and continuous casting techniques have
been developed to give a wider range of precision production techniques.
started as the first method of forming metal to shape. Large reductions
were not possible until heavy hot stamping hammers were powered by water
mills but hand hammering was and still is used for many finishing processes
such as planishing to a very pleasant appearance.
had been introduced during the 17th century when they were mostly
powered by water wheels. Capabilities increased with the introduction of
steam power followed by the introduction of electric motors. This process
has seen many comparatively recent improvements such as full electronic
control of front and back tension on feed rolls, roll grinding and mill
stressing techniques for the precision control of gauge and roll surfaces.
Finishes can now be offered to suit requirements from retention of drawing
lubricants to a fully reflective mirror finish.
A stamping machine was patented in 1769 for the
production of items such as coinage, buttons, buckles and similar items.
With the introduction of steam powered presses from 1789 and the use of
collared dies, coining became a precision process. Coining was
developed by the Chinese and was in use in Europe by the Celts and Greeks
well before Roman times.
is a craft that developed when it became possible to keep a lathe revolving
in one direction rather than use a bow string to drive it in alternate
directions. After polishing, little evidence of forming marks is retained.
Deep drawing is now used to produce many straight-sided vessels.
was developed in Nürnburg during the 14th century. Initially it
was needed for the production of comb wire for preparing wool fleeces for
spinning. By 1820 it was also well established for the production of the
brass chains used to suspend fittings for lighting and similar application.
has long been used for the manufacture of shaped knobs and threaded
fasteners. With the introduction of NC controlled machining the economics
of production have improved the competitivity of brass.
was only possible in 1806 after forming and joining strip but the techniques
used were very effective. Seamless tube drawing techniques were introduced
during the 19th century, which made possible the production of
long lengths of precision solid drawn tube with no risk of seam failure.
was introduced in 1894 by Alexander Dick and opened up possibilities for the
design of many more products in a more adventurous way.
was introduced commercially in the 1830’s. Initially this was used for
plating copper alloys with a decorative silver coating but was soon used for
refining copper and the production of art metalware by electrotyping.
Nickel plating was introduced in the 1870’s and chromium plating soon
afterwards to provide a cheaper and more durable surface finish than
silver. From the 1930s the use of surface coatings has frequently hidden
the warmth and friendliness of the underlying copper and brass products.
Where the warm copper surface is showing, some owners like it polished while
others prefer it with a patina that may be either naturally formed or an
applied coating. Electrotypes
Uses of Copper and Copper Alloys
Copper possesses the highest conductivity of any of the
commercial metals. Hold a piece of copper and
will feel cold, an indication of how quickly hand heat can be conducted
away. Each time you press a switch to light a room, think of the high
electrical conductivity and reliability
of the copper in the circuit that makes that simple operation
possible. We take for granted the electrical power and also the metal
essential for its efficient arrival at our homes.
The surface lustre and warm colour of copper and copper
alloys makes them beautiful to look at and this means they find widespread
use in architecture. The attractive green surface patina enhances the
appearance of copper roofing. Bronze sculpture may have exquisite toning or
patination. Jewellery and household ornaments and fittings gleam
satisfyingly. If you look no further than your domestic surroundings, you
will start to appreciate the huge role played by copper in the production of
useful, attractive items that enhance our lives.
an assurance of long-term reliability, the
word copper is used in everyday speech in the expression "a copper-bottomed
guarantee" amongst others.
The table shows some of the
reasons why copper and its alloys are vital to
types of application that depend on combinations of the
great many properties available.
Copper and Copper Alloy Properties and Uses
Type of application
Architecture, sculpture, jewellery, clocks, cutlery.
Kitchen equipment, door furniture, agricultural crop
General and heavy engineering, metal working,
aerospace, internal combustion engines.
Boat building, offshore oil and gas platforms.
Inexpensive strong items of complex shape.
All applications in this book, plumbing tubes and
fittings, roofing, general and marine engineering, naval vessel and
boat building, chemical engineering, industrial processes e.g.:-
pickling, etching and distilling, domestic plumbing, architecture,
desalination, textiles, paper making.
Ideal to help keep fabrication costs low and permit a
wide selection of shapes to be produced.
Ease of fabrication
All of the above plus printing.
Electrical engineering, communications, resistance
Vital for health of crops, animals and humans.
Agriculture, preservation of food and wood.
Non-sparking tools, springs.
Cookware, heat exchangers, automotive radiators, dies
for plastics moulding, internal combustion engines, mining.
Low temperature properties
Cryogenics, liquid gas handling.
Instrumentation, geological survey equipment, mine
counter-measure vessels, offshore drilling.
Mining tools, oxygen distribution.
Architectural fixings, engineering components, marine
engineering, defence, aerospace.
Electrical springs and contacts, safety pins,
Coinage, General and heavy engineering,
shipbuilding. Moulds and dies.
Reproduction, Fake or Original?
‘Original’ items may be hand-made by craftsmen coppersmiths
and appropriately marked. Any patina will be genuine and realistic for the
Original items may also be made largely by machine in the
factories of the original designers and show the quality typically expected
and a trade mark or registered design mark. Such positive identifications
are now rare in items commonly available. Most copper and brass in Europe
was not marked, though rather more in the USA. Judging whether a piece is
‘right’ is then a matter of experience.
‘Fake’ is a word that is used very loosely. Strictly it
should apply only to items made to the same design and quality as the
originals such that they are meant to be as good as the genuine articles.
Such good quality deserves recognition and may command a reasonable price
that will depend on whether the perceived value of the original is dependant
on craftsmanship and quality or age and rarity.
‘Reproduction’ is another very loose term. In quality items
may be as good as originals, but were or are made to a design decades or
centuries after it was first produced. Alternatively the term is sometimes
used to describe items that are a pathetic shadow of the original design.
They may use much lighter gauge copper or brass, be shoddily manufactured
and bear only a passing resemblance to the original style being reproduced.
The production of ‘reproduction’ designs is nothing new.
Most carriage clocks that are already a century old are reproductions of
earlier designs. During the 1920’s and 30’s there was a thriving market in
the manufacture of goods using well tried and proven Victorian designs.
These are all collectible. Reproduction items are described as ‘good’ or
‘poor’ or otherwise as appropriate.
‘Imitation’ is a term that can be taken to cover the bottom
end of the reproduction market.
During an inspection, consider some of these points:
Evidence of production methods used.
Care and pride in manufacture to give pleasure to the user.
Evidence of use for original purpose.
Patina developed through age.
Evidence of damage or wear through over-cleaning.
Analysis of the metal.
a broad generalisation, almost anything previously designed and made in
copper or brass could then be made at any subsequent date and can still be
produced today. Manufacturing methods can be the same as those used
previously or ‘improved’ using more modern equipment. The craft skills that
were used in the manufacture of the domestic items described are still
available, albeit in very short supply. Being labour-intensive, they are
also expensive. Where products have been made in quantity using machines
such as lathes, presses and other forming machines, such manufacturing
methods may still be valid. A successful, good design will find a market
for years, subject only to cyclical fashion trends.
Many manufacturers of the 1920s and 1930s were making
‘reproduction’ copper and brassware in ‘Victorian’, ‘Edwardian’, ‘Oriental’
or other styles that may, or may not, be exact copies of originals from
earlier dates. Back numbers of catalogues produced by manufacturers can
give a mine of information. As an example, between the wars, Pearson Page
(later Peerage) produced a vast amount of excellent useful and decorative
copper and brassware. The catalogues of big stores, such as the Army and
Navy Stores, are also being reprinted occasionally and are very useful.
The cost of making something using craftsmanship can be much
higher than the use of modern mass production equipment. The results are by
no means the same. The work of the craftsman is evident when copperware is
examined. Similar products made by cheaper techniques generally lack the
obvious quality and evidence of care in manufacture. Their quality may be
good but each item is substantially identical to every other one coming from
the production equipment.
When something has been wrought by a coppersmith, it will
usually not sound ‘tinny’ when tapped by a finger nail. This is because the
coppersmith has to work the metal in a soft condition and soft copper does
not resonate. Even after finishing with a planishing hammer to increase
hardness, copper does not become as hard as some currently produced. New
items are generally produced from thinner, hard rolled, copper or brass.
This is lighter and hence cheaper than thicker metal and also harder and
stronger. Hard copper and brass does resonate and will give a recognisably
‘tinny’ answer to your finger ‘ping’.
may show on items made from sheet, being left after production methods.
Modern rolling mills produce sheet that is uniform and free of blemishes.
The equipment displaced by the new mills is frequently sold second-hand to
small enterprises anywhere in the world, so evidence of rolling defects is
no guarantee of age. Marks left by spinning or drawing dies can also be
evident and are evidence of rapid, cheap production with insufficient
finishing and quality control.
A patinated finish
can come out of a bottle buy just like the dyes used for human hair the
effects can be equally as good or as disastrous. Statues are always
carefully patinated before leaving the foundry, this being a costly, lengthy
process. Modern cheap production items, for example tankards or sundials,
can easily be patinated before leaving the factory but the results, although
usually decorative, are difficult to make to resemble the effect of years of
ageing of unpolished copper or brass.
Evidence of use
can be important for most of the items described were not originally made as
decorative ornaments. Most domestic copper and brass will have been cleaned
regularly during years of use, and may have lost some original surface
features. During a lifetime in service, some hard knocks may have been
taken and the effects will show. With the mortar and pestle this would have
been intentional. If a purchase does not look as though it has just come
out of the showroom and is even looking somewhat the worse for wear, then
enjoy thinking of the useful life that it has had so far. Since much copper
and brassware is now bought only for its good looks, restoration is often
welcome and items that look well cared for can command better prices.
can be difficult to date if as much care has been taken in making
reproductions as was for the original. However, effective fettling of
castings is expensive, as is the hand chasing in of fine detail. Cheaply
finished castings, of whatever age, will show evidence of mould joint lines,
pouring runner connections and heavy-handed polishing. If castings have
been made using an original as pattern, fine detail is likely to have been
lost. Because of solidification shrinkage, the casting will also be
slightly smaller than the original though this may not be easily obvious.
Analysis of Composition
Many papers have been published on the production techniques
used from the copper age through to medieval times and the compositions of
the alloys typical of many areas and epochs. There is no difficulty in
taking small samples of swarf from drillings and getting them analysed for
both alloying additions and impurities. However, the cost is significant
and the results generally inconclusive for most of the types of objects
discussed in this book.
Since copper is now refined by similar methods in most
countries the purity produced can be routinely very good and is typical only
of the quality control methods used. There are only a few exceptions where
copper ores from some mines contain unusual trace elements that persist
detectably through refining. Copper and brass have been traded round the
world for centuries and recycling has been an essential part of the copper
economy since long before the scrapping of such wonders as the Colossus of
Rhodes or the Panthenon roof. With a few exceptions, copper and brass
products of the types described can be made from metals that are a mixture
of new and recycled materials from many sources. It is therefore very
difficult to relate a metal composition to a given area or epoch.
Copper and Brass
It is generally difficult to absolutely sure of the date of
manufacture of any particular object. Unlike the systems in compulsory use
for silver and gold, there was no requirement to hallmark copper or brass.
Early products made by members of the Worshipful Company of Braziers,
(latterly the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Braziers) do frequently
carry a makers mark. Many of these and others have been described by
Hornsby (see References).
In the 20th century, some products were made with
the manufacturers’ identity clearly and proudly displayed. However, even
some of the best products are incognito, perhaps to avoid confusion when
they were marketed in different ways by a variety of big name stores. Some
coppersmiths have marked their work, the majority have not. Other marks
present can be those of the original or subsequent owners. Where relevant,
comments are made throughout this book.
Descriptions of items frequently refer to a period. This may
indicate the age range during which it had been made or just describe the
design of the piece as typical of those current during the period. A table gives a guide to the timescales most likely to be
encountered. Design Developments
If a period description is used on an item it should mean
that it was made during that time. However, it can also be used more
loosely to describe a design style for something actually made later. Look
for the word ‘style’ in a period description. Many styles were in vogue or
revived during these periods.
(or Kite) Registration Mark
From 1842 there was a system of registering design introduced
with the aim of giving at least three years’ protection for product
designs. The objects showed a diamond mark that classified the product and
identified the registration year, though the product itself may have been
made later. The use of the old ‘Kite Mark’ term should not now be confused
with the British Standards Institute mark of assurance of conformance to
specification now common on many domestic products. The first series, from
1842 to 1867 had a letter identifying the year at the top of the diamond. A
second series, from 1868 to 1883 had the year letter in the right hand
quarter of the diamond. Even though these marks were introduced to cover
items in quantity production, few products now available show them.
Registered Design Numbers
The system of registering designs with a specific number was
introduced at the end of 1883. Where used, such Registered numbers (Rd
No.........) give an accurate date for when a design was first produced.
Such designs could then be produced in quantity for as long as needed or
fashionable and numbers therefore only give the earliest date in which an
object could have been produced. Since improvements in design have always
been a driving force in the industrial societies, many of the numbers would
only have been used for a few years and therefore do give a helpful guide.
They are found on many commonly seen domestic items, especially pieces that
were meant to be both decorative and useful. Nominally utilitarian products
such as kettles and pans rarely show the numbers unless incorporating an
unusual design feature such as those boosting efficiency.