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Please Don't Quote Me

By Caralee Aschenbrenner

PART II

Some called them by the more elegant “White Bronze” when in actuality they were merely plain old zinc. Their fabrication became known after a short while, however, because when exposed to the air, zinc turns a blue-gray color, zinc carbonate. They are easily identified by their distinctive tint.

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Nearly every cemetery has at least one. Reference suggests that their salesman wasn’t as successful as he should have been if their was just one! Across the Illinois River from Henry, Illinois is an old, rural cemetery where there are many, many zinc monuments ... A successful salesman!

One in the Lanark Cemetery was pointed out in 1993 by grandson, Karl Prowant, while the two with it have a detailed biography of my favorite person of the past, “Dad Joe” Smith. All the lettering is a tribute to the skill of the maker. It is in a rural cemetery west of Princeton, Illinois. The other photos here are examples of the variety of styles found throughout.

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Zinc markers were sold ONLY by catalog. There were no showrooms nor were they seen in the yards of sellers of stone monuments. None is known, that is.

Why or how zinc markers came on the scene is so far undiscovered but the first to manufacture them was M.A. Richardson in Chautauqua County, New York in 1872-’73.

In just a couple years, however, the company was sold in 1874 to Wilson, Parsons & Co. of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bridgeport became synonymous with such metal markers even if made elsewhere. “Subsidiaries” were opened, the first in Detroit, Michigan in 1881. The city directory does not list them after 1886.

Des Moines, Iowa’s was to have functioned from 1886 to about 1908. It was known as the “Western Bronze Works.” Chicago’s was named the “American Bronze Works.” Others opened in Philadelphia, St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada and in New Orleans. It also had a subsidiary, “Coleman’s.” A renegade company started in Missouri of which we’ll tell you later.

Due to the efforts of Barbara Rotundo and Kathy Flippo the information here fills out the scarce facts so far gathered. Thanks to them.

Few catalogs remain of the product, though there are examples found in Winterthur and the Metropolitan museums, to prestigious institutions. The markers can be seen, it’s reported from Hawaii to Maine and in between, from Vancouver to Halifax in Canada, so thousands were manufactured.

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Each side of a monument was cast separately and each level, too, thus several pieces were the make-up of the marker unless it was a simple tablet. An artist designed the pieces and any number of them could be used to suit the buyer. A sand cast was first made then the molten zinc was poured into the mold. Those of quality had the molten zinc heated to a much higher temperature beyond the melting point. When the pieces were cooled and ready for assembly they were fused by molten zinc poured along the seam. The seam melted the pieces together thus sealing them more effectively than screws that could work loose. And did. Soldering didn’t work well either.

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Zinc screws, however, were used to fasten the deceased name plate to the marker. The screws had ornamental heads. The lettering and applied, ornate decorations is as new looking today as when manufactured. It is to be pointed out that each marker was custom made because the buyer could put any item from the catalog together to suit themselves.

It is so far unknown if the Bridgeport factory made all the pieces then shipped them to the subsidiaries or if those factories made the ordered castings. It is not known for certain either if the monument waz resulting from zinc discovery in nearby Raymond, Missouri. Zinc and lead are found in proximity to one another.

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Lead had been found there even before that at Galena, Illinois. The size of the zinc deposits stirred the imaginations of a few locals, one of them Thomas Benton White, publisher of a newspaper, the “Benton County Enterprise” at Warsaw. He dabbled in several sidelines such as the stock market, furniture real estate and then zinc grave markers. Little material is available concerning the Warsaw factory and a descendant would not share what was known. Enough became known from observation. Ornamentation and lettering were applied on the Missouri-made markers with solder instead of fusing with hot zinc so the application often wore off by time and elements they leaving holes that were further worn. Vandals often pried off plates and letters.

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All of the Warsaw, Missouri monuments were initialed with WMW, WZW or ZMW for Warsaw Metal Works, Warsaw Zinc Works, Zinc Metal Works. All of them, too, have a hinged door with removable glass at the top where a metal box can be inserted in which to put flowers, a poem, photograph or memorabilia.

This far away from the Warsaw factory probably means that the Warsaw markers would not be found around here. Bridgeport and subsidiaries are the likely manufacturers in our area. And they are as neat and clear as the day put together.

White bronze monuments are now more than a hundred years old, a short almost unknown chapter in our region’s history. The Bridgeport factory is thought to have ceased operation in 1912 but continued working with zinc manufacture, automobile and radio parts of zinc until 1939.

There is no hint as to why after only thirty to forty years they ceased operation. It was such a quality product (and still is) you’d hardly think them an unsalable item. Every catalog had a plea for people to apply for the salesmen’s job. Perhaps there were no takers, no applications. A come-on read, “No capital investment needed.” Certainly a benefit for the person wanting to begin in business but apparently there was no one interested in zinc, let alone white bronze.

 

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