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Brass: Everything You Need To Know

Brass: Everything You Need To Know

Brass is one of the world's most famous metals, from its place in design and manufacturing to its cultural associations. The metal is a common feature in vintage homes, with their polished brass faucets, candlesticks and bedsteads. It is also likely to conjure images of summers from yesteryear, with their lively brass bands in the town park bandstand. However you see brass, it is not quite the nostalgic metal it once was. Since its 21st century resurgence, brass has reappeared on the market and these days it is used in everything from standard DIY screws to chic Crabtree switches and sockets.  

So why has brass made such a comeback? Some say it is because of people's desire for quality products made in a traditionally British manner. Others credit the cultural phenomenon that has surrounded all things vintage, retro and nostalgic. Whichever it is, brass is back and in honour of its mighty return we thought it would be nice to take a look at the history and development of this amazing alloy.

What is brass?

Brass is an alloy metal made by combining copper and zinc. It is popular due to its bright gold like appearance and incredible malleability. Brass is best suited for purposes that require low friction, making it the ideal material for use in locks, gears, bearings, doorknobs, zippers and valves as well as in plumbing and ammunition casings. The acoustic properties of brass also make it a popular metal for use in instruments, with iconic brass bands having a very identifiable sound. Brass is a generic term but there are different types of brass alloys, from admiralty brass and common brass to leaded brass and yellow brass - with many other types in between.

The history of brass

Brass has been used in one form or another since prehistoric times but it was not properly understood as a material until the medieval period when alchemy was a popular practice. Despite people's lack of understanding, brass was used by ancient civilisations in areas like the Aegean, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Israel to name but a few. There is evidence to suggest the civilisations in these areas used brass compounds both at home (as jewellery and decoration), in trade (as wares and as coinage) and at war (as weaponry). By the 1st century BC brass was widely used as coinage and by the latter part of the first millennium, brass had spread across a wide geographical area which spanned from the Middle East all the way to the British Isles.

With the medieval period came a new lease of life for brass. By the 500-600 AD more than 90% of alloy artefacts in Egypt were made of brass whilst the rest of the Islamic and Byzantine worlds used the alloy for different purposes. By the end of the first millennium brass had spread throughout Europe and was used to make coins in Northumbria, Germany and the Low Countries. In civilised medieval Europe brass casting was a popular means of art and decoration; the 12th century baptismal font at St. Bartholomew's Church in Liege, Belgium being a remarkable piece of Romanesque brass casting.

Following on from medieval alchemy which experimented with the composition and use of brass, among other metals, the dawn of the Renaissance brought big changes to brass making in Europe. Brass casting became a popular trade and the European brass industry continued to grow and thrive throughout the post-medieval period because of the demand for brass to be used in new as well as traditional industries (like electricity and motorcars).

The English brass industry

England's brass industry really started in the 18th century and as it grew in strength and popularity, it was used for all sorts of things. English brass was even used in expensive luxury items like scientific instruments, clocks, brass buttons and costume jewellery.

However, with the increase in popularity for newer, more "modern" metals in the 20th century, brass was largely abandoned as a fashionable material. That is, until its resurgence at the turn of the 21st century where it became the metal of choice. Now we can see a newly rekindled love for brass door knockers, doorknobs, bedsteads and so on.

Brass is the new black

It appears that brass is the new black. Now, whether this great brass renaissance is part of a natural "trend" cycle, a return to tried and tested manufacturing or a by-product of the cultural phenomenon surrounding all things vintage, brass is here to stay. So if you feel like adding a touch of old school class to your home and its fittings, consider installing subtle touches of brass like those found in the Crabtree Electrical switches and sockets range. If you have any queries or would like to discuss our range of Crabtree products in more detail then please contact SND Electrical today!