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Aug 16

Metal Cemetery Monuments

If you enjoy walking through older cemeteries as much as I do, you might have noticed some beautiful, but different looking grave markers. These markers have a blue-gray color and even though most of these monuments date back to the last half of the 19th century, they have not weathered at all. Their lines and edges are still sharp and the inscriptions remain very legible.

Henry C. Miller marker, Union Cemetery, Darke County, Ohio. (2006 photo by Karen)

Henry C. Miller marker, Union Cemetery, Darke County, Ohio. (2006 photo by Karen)

What is so special about the markers? They are made of metal. They are sometimes referred to as “white bronze” markers, but they are actually made of cast zinc. They get their blue-gray color from exposure to the elements, which forms a layer of zinc carbonate. Otherwise they withstand the weather because zinc does not corrode or rust. If fact many of the metal markers hold up much better than their concrete bases. If you are not sure if a marker is iron or zinc, try using a magnet. Zinc not magnetic and will not attract the magnet.

Ault monument, Union Cemetery, Darke County, Ohio. (2006 photo by Karen)

Ault monument, Union Cemetery, Darke County, Ohio. (2006 photo by Karen)

Zinc grave markers were first made in 1873 and a year later The Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was formed and produced them for sale. The company had subsidiaries in Chicago, Detroit, Des Moines, Philadelphia, New Orleans and St. Thomas in Ontario, Canada.

Company mark, Liber Cemetery, Jay County, Indiana. (2012 photo by Karen)

American White Bronze Co. mark, Liber Cemetery, Jay County, Indiana. (2012 photo by Karen)

The zinc markers were ordered through the company’s catalog and sold by a company sales agent. The casting was done in Bridgeport while some of the assembly was done in other areas. These metal markers were made to order, made to the customer’s specifications. The customer chose a basic design and size from the catalog and plaster molds were created from wax models. Panels and individual pieces were cast from the plaster molds. The individual panels were then assembled to make a custom monument. Molten zinc was poured into the joints between the sides and panels, which fused the pieces securely together.

The photo below shows a decorative panel insert.

St. Joseph Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

St. Joseph Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

The customer could also order specific decorations and embellishments from the company’s catalog. Some of these zinc markers are very elaborate, while others quite simple.

Brown plot, St. Joseph Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

Brown plot, St. Joseph Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

Greenlawn Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

Greenlawn Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

The Monumental Bronze Co. Catalog, circa 1890, is on-line in PDF format. I recognize many of the markers, toppers and embellishments that we have seen in numerous cemeteries we have visited.

Greenlawn Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

Greenlawn Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

Liber Cemetery, Jay County, Indiana. (2012 photo by Karen)

Liber Cemetery, Jay County, Indiana. (2012 photo by Karen)

Zinc markers were relatively inexpensive and cost less than the carved marble and granite tombstones.

There are only a couple disadvantages to these markers. Zinc is brittle and can break if hit by something such as a tree branch. These monuments are hollow inside and unsupported weight at the top may cause the marker to “creep” down. For example, the weight of a statue may cause the lower part of the monument to buckle and the statue may begin to lean.

The Monumental Bronze Company ceased production of zinc grave markers in 1914 when they began manufacturing munitions for the government during WWI. They continued casting metal moldings until their bankruptcy in 1939.

Bye grave, Liber Cemetery, Jay County, Indiana. (2012 photo by Karen)

Bye grave, Liber Cemetery, Jay County, Indiana. (2012 photo by Karen)

They continued to make inscription plates after the company ceased monument production in 1914. So you may see a zinc marker with an inscription date after the factory closed.

I have noticed that these markers were used for many civil War veterans as well as many of the Civil War statues seen in cemeteries.

Union Cemetery, Darke County, Ohio. (2006 photo by Karen)

Union Cemetery, Darke County, Ohio. (2006 photo by Karen)

 

Civil War grave, Greenlawn Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

Civil War grave, Greenlawn Cemetery, Auglaize County, Ohio. (2013 photo by Karen)

Sources of information:

Association for Gravestone Studies FAQ

http://www.usgwarchives.net/pa/1pa/tscarvers/monumental-bronze/monumental-bronze.htm

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~artttp/benton/whitebronze.htm

3 comments

  1. Waldo

    Interesting that they never switched to zinc plating or galvanizing. Zinc is still the main rust preventing coating for fence (chain link or highway grade field fence) and other iron products exposed to heavy corrosion. Apparently it took a while to learn that it was too brittle for stand alone applications.

  2. Brian Edmund Guiot

    Hello,
    My name is Brian. I own Guiot Cmetery Monument Company in West Warwick, Rhode Island. I have several photographs of zink monuments in my collection. I am also the monument officer for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War organization. I have been writing stories for our website about Westerly, RI granite and The Gorham Company of Providence Rhode Island who made the bronze work for many of the old Civil War monuments here in Rhode Island and at many battlefields. These two companies made a lot of monuments for the Rhode Island Civil War Soldiers also.

    Now I want to write about zink monuments for our organization and I don’t really know much about the zink monuments. I just read your site and I learned something today! I was pleased to see a site about zink monuments! Can you tell me anything that ( GAR) Grand Army of the Republic organization, Civil War veterans organization if they purchased any zink monuments for any old battlefields etc.? The government back in the day made many marble monuments for the veteran’s graves, but now they are in tough shape. Some of them, you can hardly read the inscriptions. I have replaced many of them with Barre Vermont gray granite. I really like the zink monuments, they are works of art in my opinion!
    Please, give me your email address and I will send you some beautiful zink monuments located in Rhode Island cemeteries for your collection. I do hope to hear from you. Respectfully I am, Brian Guiot Have a wonderful day!

    1. Karen

      Nice to hear from you and I would love to have some photo copies of the zink monuments you mentioned. I have seen many zink monuments used for Civil War graves but I do not know if any GAR groups purchased any for battlefields. Yes, unfortunately marble monuments have not weathered well. Granite seems to hold up much better and the zink markers have held up very well, too. Thanks for writing!

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