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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The History of White Bronze

Just what is ‘white bronze’ anyway?

Have you ever ventured into a cemetery and spied a bluish-colored headstone that was in remarkable condition, and appeared to be something other than marble, granite or sandstone? If so, chances are you found what’s called a “white bronze” marker.

White Bronze markers were very Victorian chic starting back in the late 1800’s.  The Monumental Bronze Company foundry used a formula developed by two gentlemen, M.A. Richardson and C.J. Willard, for making the markers. Made to repel moss and lichen, but also display a multitude of designs that were popular in that time period, white zinc was a hit. Made from zinc carbonate, these beautifully ornate memorials have lasted well over 100 years and counting!

How can you tell if a marker is ‘white bronze’?

The headstone will be a lovely bluish-white color, perhaps a bit darker due to weathering and climate. Any lettering will stand out as being made in a cast and put together in panels. The assured way to tell is to literally knock on the marker itself. Yes, you read correctly. Knock on it as if you were knocking on someone’s front door. If it’s a white bronze, it will have a metallic hollow sound to it. Seriously, it will. Of course you may want to look around first to see if anyone might be watching and think you’re certifiable for going around knocking on headstones.

White Bronze headstones, or ‘zinkies’ being the more affectionate term, were very popular back in the eastern part of the United States. As one would head west however, they were few and far between. Seen as a status symbol for the deceased, many families couldn’t afford such a luxury. Cost ranged anywhere from $10.00 to  $5000.00, depending on design. If attainable, there were often difficulties finding a salesman in particular states.
For example, here in Colorado, the local salesman was stationed in Denver. He would have to travel to cities by horseback, wagon or stagecoach with his catalog, take orders and return to Denver to send off a dispatch to one of the few companies making white bronze. The closest to Colorado was the Western White Bronze Company in Des Moines, Iowa. I was quite surprised recently when I discovered a white bronze marker in Evans Cemetery in Greeley, Colorado. It was manufactured by the Detroit Bronze Company in Detroit, Michigan!

It would take a lot of time to get the finished product made and back to the salesman, who once again, had to make his deliveries. When faced with a lengthy travel time, hardships like winter and possible Indian encounters, white bronze headstones didn’t fare well in the west.

The popularity of white bronze in the Midwest lasted through the turn of the century and up until 1939. Metals were needed for use in World War I, and with that, the last and original foundry closed.

White Bronze markers are well made, beautiful and hold up to the elements. In conversations with others who share my interest, I’ve been told of stories from bootlegging days, when alcohol and other then banned items were said to be stashed behind panels and inside the hollow portions of the monuments. Who knows? Truth is stranger than fiction!

Are you on Facebook and want to know more about White Bronze markers? Check out http://www.facebook.com/groups/210120245693740/, White Bronze Headstones. We are a very friendly group who will answer all of your questions, and we post some wonderful pictures! 
If not on Facebook, you can also visit www.saveagrave.net/white-bronze-headstones for more information.






  

2 comments:

  1. Would you happen to know of a place where they sell headstones near Chicago, IL .

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  2. If any one knows of some place that will still make white bronze markers, Please contact me at atunionbob@gmail.com please. Also if you are interested in grave stones and can not read the stone that your looking at. Use common flour and rub on to the stone. It will not harm the stone, but will allow you to see the lettering very well in most cases. It is biodegradable and will not harm the ground or environment also....Neat little hint I got from a undertaker.

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