This lecture is part of the 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit
Conservation of Cemetery Monuments, Memorials, and Statuary Made of Zinc By Carol A. Grissom
Zinc is a, for those of you who are unaware, is a dull grey metal. It was not successfully smelted in the west until the end of the 18th century, and it wasn’t until 1832 that the first zinc statues or artifacts were produced in Berlin. In fact, it was courtesy of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who produced them for his somewhat impecunious monarch. Zinc was always inexpensive, or from then on was inexpensive, and it was very easy to fabricate because it has such a low melting point. It melts at about 400 degrees C, whereas bronze and iron melt at much higher temperatures. It’s interesting following the block monument, zinc came to this country via an immigrant sculptor, Moritz J. Seelig, who was fleeing the revolution of 1948, arriving in New York in 1851 and opening a foundry in Williamsburg, New York.
I’m going to describe now at some length the three main types of zinc monuments. That’s because the type of monument will dictate the problems that you have and possible treatments. Starting in historical order with the regular casting statues, these were made typically in rather small parts. They were sandcast and put together with lead-tin solder. Because the solder would show, and because the zinc itself is not very attractive, these were always painted, usually to imitate bronze, but it could be stone, or polychrome wood, or whatever. These are the premises of the Seelig Company in Williamsburg in probably the 1920s. Very modest establishment. They sold statues directly, and they also sold them through some of the very large New York vendors, J.L. Mott Iron Works and J.W. Fiske.
I believe that they produced the statue for the City of New York Civil War monument in Green-Wood Cemetery, which is 1869. These were actually copies of bronze statues for the City of New York Civil War monument in Calvary Cemetery. The original statues were in bronze, but these were in fact copper-plated zinc. You see in this stereopticon view that they indeed looked like a dark statuary bronze. By the time I saw the monument around 1990, the statues appeared to be grey with no surface coating. Here you see detailed photographs of the artilleryman from the Green-Wood Cemetery in zinc on the left, and the corresponding bronze from Calvary on the right.
I had actually always been rather puzzled by the Green-Wood Cemetery statues, the zinc ones, appeared slightly greenish, although there was no apparent coating on them, but when they did some cleaning a few years later, I could see that there was a copper plating on them. This is actually unique for zinc sculpture in America in the 19th century. Usually this was a paint, although there was a lot of copper plating in Europe at that point.
The City of New York Civil War monument was very influential. This infantryman from the monument on the left was copied, there are many copies in bronze, exact copies that you see on the right, and there are also a few in zinc. It was also produced in a slightly different version for Mott, which you see on the right. It was produced in copper-plated example, or stamped copper examples by W.H. Mullins later on, and there was a slightly different version for J.W. Fiske that you see here. The catalogs for Mott sold them painted one coat or painted bronzed, which meant a copper plate paint probably. Here you see an image of a Fiske statue in a hand-colored postcard, where you can also see the metallic finish.
Typically, this is a cross-section from another monument, not from one of these soldiers, but this would have been a typical paint used with, you can see on the third layer these flakes of metallic brass. There were also firemen that were found in cemeteries. The City of St. Paul, for example, commissioned a fireman statue for their municipal plot, and then they would have burials of firemen who fell in the line of duty around the statue. The first one was for the protestant cemetery, and then they had an identical one made for the Catholic cemetery. Again, you see imitation bronze paints. Obviously, these are modern ones, though.
This tradition continued through Doughboys, and even there are some fighting Yanks from World War II. This is an interesting one. This statue was very widely distributed with a cast zinc copy on the left, and then there were also stamped copper copies, which you see on the right. In fact, the stamped copper ones are much more common. In the 19th century there was also the ecclesiastical company Benzinger Brothers, who sold all kinds of ecclesiastical paraphernalia. I think they’re still in business as a publisher of Roman Catholic catechisms. These statues were only produced from about 1860 to 1880, and I found actually very few examples, but I think that this crucifixion gerth minus Mary on the left, who was damaged, is probably a Benzinger Brothers production.
I would also point out that in the conventional zinc materials, there were also Elks for Elks Rests, which were Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. You would have the statue in the middle and then the gravestones around it. This and other animal statues are sometimes found in cemeteries, often painted naturalistically.
Then in historical order, the next group would be the white bronze monuments of the Monumental Bronze Company and its affiliates. The affiliates had similar names: Western White Bronze out of Des Moines, The American Bronze Company out of Chicago, Detroit White Bronze, and so on. The company started probably in the late 1860s, but it didn’t become Monumental Bronze until, it was actually 1879 ,that’s a mistake, but they produced huge numbers of things for cemeteries, both very simple markers and very elaborate monuments. Once you see this, it’s sort of a distinctive subtly blue-grey appearance, you’ll see them everywhere. They were made in a rather unusual way. Although they were called white bronze, and I try to refer only to their products as white bronze, they were actually sand-blasted at the factory to give an imitation stone appearance. This is one of the simpler monuments. You also have these very elaborate monuments like this woman on top of an obelisk, trying to outdo her ancestors who were made out of granite, I think. You also have these funny things like this monument to a favorite dog, Papa’s Boy. This is my favorite statue, actually.
The premises were very large for Monumental Bronze. They were in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and that was also the home of P.T. Barnum, and you often see some similar hype. This was actually in Scientific American. They were very successful in getting their products promoted. Here you see rather large crucibles from the foundry. They typically cast in as large sections as they could so that they would have very few seams. Here you see the sand-blasting, which was a new technique at that point.
Their construction was very high quality once they kind of figured out what they were doing. The one on the left is a very early example. It was actually a predecessor of the Monumental Bronze Company. I’ve seen several of these. I think they were obviously having trouble with the metal at this point. You see these giant holes. At first I thought they were bullet holes, but I subsequently realized it was some kind of problem with the metal. This is a statue of Faith in a cemetery, and they eventually substituted a different statue that you see on the right, which had no problems.
They also had a unique joining method. Instead of using lead-tin solder, they would pour molten zinc in small sections into the corners. This enabled them to have similar metals for both the joining and the cast sections, so that they could get away without painting the surfaces because there would be no difference in color. Here you … It’s a little bit hard to see, I think, but here you see some of the joining metal, these big sections, and of course there’s no scale in here. But here, these slides are also … This is the front, on the left, and the back of the same area, and you can see this was probably a casting flaw. You can see how carefully it was integrated into
the front surface, and this would be the plug on the back. They’re really very high quality workmanship, typically.
This is an interesting monument in Newark, which was placed on top of a crypt with tombstones from the old cemetery in Newark, which was downtown and they decided they needed the land. Then by, let’s see, about 2000, the wooden structure that had held the statue in place had deteriorated and caused the internal supports of this to start to fail, and you can see in the slide on the right the degree to which the whole thing is leaning forward. I show you this mainly to illustrate how these things come apart. On the slide on the left you see the statue being lifted off, and then the next section on the right. Typically, these were just bolted together with a single bolt on each side, a decorative bolt that once it was unscrewed you could just disassemble the whole thing. This sort of ready assembly and disassembly in sections meant that these could be easily shipped throughout the country by the railroad, which went everywhere by this point. This would then account for the wide distribution of the company’s products.
Here you see the lowest two sections of that monument after it’s been disassembled, and you can see these … Here’s one of the four corner posts, and then they had these sort of O-shaped brackets in the lowest section. These are the only internal supports that you find typically in these very large monuments, and as a result often these have had to be disassembled, and the armatures replaced with stainless steel. This is the area after the monument’s been removed, and you see again these corner posts lying there and one of these O-shaped brackets.
Finally, in the 20th century there were the so-called orbronze products of the Daprato Statuary Company. The first ones were produced in 1913, and they were produced exclusively for Roman Catholic cemeteries. They were made of copper-plated bronze. You see a Pieta on the left, and there’s a crucifixion on the right. As most of you are aware, probably, copper on zinc creates a battery that causes pitting of the less noble zinc and then the loss of the copper on top of it. Although they promoted this as being particularly suitable for display, in fact it’s kind of a disaster.
The orbronze products, you can often tell them because they’ll have these bell-shaped plaques on them, typically on the front or back of the base. Sometimes you see them applied to the side. It says, “Orbronze Trademark Chicago, New York.” I’ve forgotten what it says on the bottom; something else. The most popular one was this elaborate crucifixion girth that you see on the left in Ft. Wayne. The statue on the right is from a small cemetery in southern Indiana. It’s actually the same figure … This figure of St. John is the same figure. Apparently there was some damage to the legs, and they just sunk into the ground.
I’ve actually seen this more than once, believe it or not. I also show this to illustrate, typically, again, these are made in parts, and the seams are starting to come apart. This also has this unfortunate silver paint, which would not be … it would not replicate what was meant to be its original appearance. This was a slightly more successful one, but I find this a bit too coppery and unmodulated. This is another Daprato one that has a modern paint on it. By the 1940s, the catalogs also indicate that they sold these painted stone color, so this is actually not an inappropriate treatment.
Moving on to damage, breakage is probably the most common thing that happens to these zinc cemetery monuments. Zinc is very brittle, and it breaks very easily. There’s only, in fact, in this grouping one cemetery figure, this angel, but this kind of damage is not unusual when somebody pushes one of these things over. I wanted to point out, however, that oftentimes the zinc statues have just come apart at the seams. This is a Doughboy that is starting to come apart, I think you can see here, and then where it’s fully taken apart. I show you this probably just as a visual image of how many pieces these statues could be composed of. As the age, the solder seams are the weak link, and they will start to come apart on their own when they’re outside, but when someone pushes one of these things over, they’ll also tend to fall apart at the seams. I would encourage people to try to fix these if they can. Sometimes, when you see a broken one, it looks far worse than it in fact is. You’ll find that sometimes the damaged metal is a lot less than it initially appears to be.
One way that these are fixed … This is not a cemetery figure, obviously. It’s a puck. But it is possible to solder these back together with lead-tin solder. It’s not easy, but a few people are skilled at doing this. You can also repair broken joints with plastic methods, with polyester resins or epoxy resin. The white bronze monuments you would not want to repair probably with lead-tin solder, however, because the solder would be apparent. This is one of the white bronze Confederate monuments in Bardstown, Kentucky, that was repaired using a zinc welding rod, probably a more successful treatment. Many of these, I don’t have to tell this group, but many of these soldiers in cemeteries have been very badly damaged by falling trees.
Creep, which is long-term deformation under load, is a big problem with larger white bronze monuments. There are more than a hundred copies of this soldier. This is the same one that was at Gettysburg that I saw 30 years ago, and almost always they lean back and slightly to one side. I think this is probably because the weight of the greatcoat, there are lots of folds, and I think that distorts the center of balance. You also typically have some sagging in the lower elements of these very large monuments. In case you missed it, this whole thing is made out of zinc. Sometimes when they install armatures, they find that the distortion can’t be corrected, and in order to make the statue stand level, as you see here, they had to do this fill. Not very pretty, but there are few other solutions.
Another huge problem with the large Monumental Bronze Company products is filling them with concrete. Often these monuments are found in small towns, and the local guys decide, or the local chapter of the American Legion or something decides that the best thing to do is to fix them up by pouring concrete inside. This is invariably a really bad thing to do. I think what happens typically is that you get a slight gap between the zinc and the concrete, and eventually water gets in there and freezes, and causes damage. In the early stages, you might get something like these cracks that you see in the corners. In later stages, there is much more serious damage.
This is a monument in Illinois that was filled with concrete, and they’re taking it apart in order to repair it. You can see these really bad cracks here, and I presume that it’s cracked here. That would enable them to actually take it apart. I’m sure this is caused by the jacking of ice inside, between the zinc and the concrete. Here you see the same thing, with just a … This monument has just a little bit of concrete here, and I’ve been watching it over the years as the space has pushed out. This is a monument that was filled with concrete and then repaired with aluminum welding rod, which has deteriorated very badly at the corners.
Corrosion is minimal on the statues that are continuously painted. If they’re not, you can get some really severe corrosion in polluted atmospheres. You can see in this case that this is the solder, this dark part, and it’s quite a bit higher than the surrounding zinc, whereas almost certainly when this was made the solder and the zinc were level. This is just to remind me, these copper-plated zinc statues also had this really terrible pitting that I mentioned earlier. These are little pits through the copper.
These are two white bronze monuments. Because the white bronze was not meant to be coated originally, and because when you coat them, as has been done on the one on the left, you tend to lose the imitation stone appearance, I don’t recommend coating these white bronze monuments except in a really dire situation. Here you see that same monument. It’s a bit dark on the left, but it is very dark, because I believe this is actually a wax coating on this. Here you can see, I think the wax is starting to wear off, and you’re starting to get the light grey appearance that the monument should have.
I have arrows here on this to indicate how the surfaces of unpainted conventional statues look. Here you can see that, it’s not the best illustration, perhaps, but there are dark seams where the solder is. The lead-tin solder tends to go dark, and then the zinc tends to get white corrosion products. This can be very disfiguring if these remain unpainted. People have tried imitation bronze coatings. The one on the left I find unsuccessful. It looks too much like a copper radiator paint. It is possible, if you have a skilled person, to get a more modulated appearance with bronze paint. It’s not easy, however. I find the one on the right, which is much more successful. There are people who replace zinc statues, although I really would encourage you to try to repair them rather than replace them.
This is, on the left is a fountain, I believe it’s the same Florentine fountain that’s in the Mount Hope Cemetery that you saw yesterday in Rochester. In this case, the basins and the main architecture of the fountain are made out of cast iron, but the statues here and the figure at the top would all be made out of zinc.
Robinson Iron out of Alabama makes and encourages people to replicate these fountain statues in aluminum. On the right you see some examples of their aluminum replicas. These are only about 15 years old, and they are actually perforated. This is, for example, a perforation. I think this is because of the chlorinated water that people use in fountains. It damages, say, aluminum very badly. Probably a better but far more expensive solution is replicating statues in bronze if it comes to that.
This is the City of New York Civil War monument, which now has these bronze replicas. That’s it.
Inexpensive zinc cemetery monuments, memorials, and statuary made by several different methods were erected in American cemeteries beginning around 1870 and continuing into the early twentieth century. The fabrication method often determines the type of damage sustained and, as a result, the most suitable conservation treatment.The most common items were made by the Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and similarly named subsidiaries in the U.S. and Canada. Thousands of ordinary markers, many replicas of Faith, Hope, and Charity, a few life-size statues of the dead, and enormous Civil War memorials crowned by statues of soldiers can be easily spotted by their distinctive blue-gray color in many cemeteries throughout the country. Advertised as made of “white bronze,” these products have sandblasted finishes to imitate the mat appearance of stone. Large white-bronze monuments have problems of metallic “creep” on account of their weight, which typically results in sagging between corners and cracking at corners. When necessary, stainless-steel armatures should be installed for support. Filling monuments with concrete should always be avoided, as it almost invariably leads to far more serious damage that is very expensive to remedy. Falling trees and vandalism also lead to breakage of this brittle metal. Seam separations and cracks can be repaired by soldering or welding or with plastic repairs. Corrosion is a potential problem in highly polluted atmospheres, but white-bronze monuments should only be coated as a last resort since coatings destroy the stone-like appearance of their surfaces.
Sold by the J.L. Mott Iron Works and J.W. Fiske, soldiers and firemen made of zinc and painted to imitate bronze were erected in cemeteries by veteran’s groups and municipal governments. Also sold for placement in cemeteries were the occasional naturalistically painted elk made of zinc, encircled by tombstones of members of the Benevolent Order of Elks, and cast-iron fountains with classicizing zinc statues, usually painted white in imitation of stone. Since the largest of these statues is lifesized, repairs usually involve rejoining seams that have come apart, repairing cracks resulting from breakage, and applying suitable paint.
A third type of zinc statue was sold by the Daprato Statuary Company in Chicago beginning in 1913, even as zinc statuary production otherwise waned. The company’s Crucifixion Groups and saints are found in Roman Catholic cemeteries and churchyards, made of copper-plated zinc referred to as “orbronze.” Copper plating on zinc is unstable in an outdoor environment, and severe pitting of the zinc accompanied by loss of the copper plating is common. There are no good options for re-mediation.