Medieval Metals: Copper and Brass Signage Creates a Lasting Impression

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Of all the metals we see, touch, and use each day, it’s millennia-old copper that is perhaps the most important. History shows that people first discovered this elemental metal roughly 11,000 years ago in what is now Iraq. Of course, they immediately began pounding it into weapons and ornamental headwear, using it to intimidate or impress their fellow humans as the circumstances required. And perhaps 6000 years after that, some clever Sumerian found that she could melt copper together with another elemental metal—tin—to make a harder, more wear-resistant alloy. The Bronze Age was born.

A collage of copper

Since then, similarly clever people have been blending copper with various alloying elements to make a range of useful products. Consider money. Aside from the lowly one-cent piece—which was once nearly pure copper but is now made of copper-plated zinc—the dimes and quarters we use to feed slot machines, parking meters, and candy bar dispensers are mostly copper with a little nickel thrown in for strength.

There’s more. You might have cooked last night’s dinner in copper-clad cookware (copper coated with stainless steel), brought out the sterling silver dinnerware (silver alloyed with copper) to eat it, then used the water coming out of your pipes (nearly pure C12200 copper) to wash the scraps down the garbage disposal.

A more important use of copper than cookware and currency (I prefer debit cards) is electricity. That’s because you wouldn’t be reading this engaging tale of two metals if it weren’t for the nearly pure copper used to make the electrical wiring that powers your computer. Copper also carries the signals within your smart phone’s electrical pathways, and keeps the lights and air-conditioning running in your house or apartment. Granted, other metals are involved in all of these functions, but it’s copper that really shines.

Down to brass tacks

Then there’s copper’s more economical and far less ancient cousin, brass, which is copper with a dollop or two of zinc thrown in for strength. It was invented not long after bronze and is in many ways a “better,” more versatile metal, even though it never had a historical period named after it. As a result, today we have everything from brass valves and fittings to candlesticks, doorknobs, and trombones—it seems that brass, too, is everywhere.

Like copper, brass is malleable, ductile, recyclable, and corrosion resistant. As mentioned in a previous post, copper develops a rich, bluish-green patina over time—look no further than our Statue of Liberty, dressed in 80 tons of copper sheet just two pennies thick. Yet brass also ages nicely, although depending on the alloy (there are dozens), it’s arguably not as ornamental as copper.

Get on with it, already

You might be wondering by now: who cares? That was a wonderful history lesson and all, but I have some parts to make. Do you have any suggestions on what metal I should use to make them?

Develop your Design for Order Custom Metal Parts Online

Fair question. As we’ve seen, copper and brass boast a wide range of desirable characteristics and mechanical properties, making them suitable for the products already mentioned plus a host of others. These include electrical connectors, marine components, heat exchangers, and as the title of this blog post indicates, signage and architectural parts.

SendCutSend can laser-cut or engrave practically any flat shape out of these two metals, or notch said shapes to make them foldable (something we’ll be discussing at length in an upcoming blog post). The two alloys we carry are 110 copper—a 99% pure grade of electrolytic (ETP) copper—and 260 series H02 1/2 hard brass. Both are available in up to 1/8″ thick sheet. If you have another alloy in mind, give us a call and we can talk about it.

We also offer several finish options such as clear coat (to keep signs shiny), brushed, or just as nature made them. Either way, check out our Instagram page for some ideas. If you’re looking for some rocking signage at a fair price and quick turnaround, we’re here to help.

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