Building a Brick Archive of Known Bricks
By Dan L. Mosier
To identify the manufacturer of a brick using the clay body components method of identification, it is necessary to have a brick archive of known bricks to find a match. A known brick is one in which the manufacturer of the brick is known. The clay body components method of identification is matching the internal components and composition of bricks to identify the brickmaker. There are two types of information in the brick archives, 1) a physical collection of known bricks, and 2) a database of known bricks. Each of these types of information will be discussed.
Physical Collection of Known Bricks
The physical collection of known bricks is simply having samples of known bricks at hand and stored in an organized manner on site. The bricks may be cataloged and attached with labels that gives the name of the manufacturer, brickyard location, and date of manufacture, if known. These bricks are usually collected directly from the brick manufacturers’ sales yards or manufacturing brickyards. They may include samples of brick found at abandoned brickyard sites, if the bricks have been determined to have been manufactured there. They may also include bricks that were found at a former building site where the manufacturer of the brick is known. The physical collection may also include bricks in which the manufacturers were initially unknown but were later identified so that they can be added to the archive.
Samples collected should include both a whole brick, if possible, and a bat (broken part of a brick), the latter of which displays the internal features. A database of brick processing features and clay body components may accompany the physical brick archive to help with the identification process. The bricks may be organized by manufacturers, brickyard locations, or brick types. I prefer to organize the bricks by brickyard locations so that all of the bricks per location will usually have the same clay body components for a quicker identification. This arrangement also provides all the of the possible types of bricks made by the manufacturer that may be found together at one site.
Storage of bricks with labels is not a problem when stored inside a building protected from weather. Unprotected outside storage of bricks will be problematic with the labels. Weathering causes the labels to fade or disintegrate over time. So the labels will have to be replaced to remain legible. Experiments with different labeling methods found that plastic plant labels with engraved information and wired to the brick held up the longest in outside storage conditions.
The advantage of having a physical brick archive is the instant accessibility of comparing bricks and the ability to rapidly check for certain diagnostic features. The disadvantage would be maintaining a permanent storage for the collected bricks and the loss of information from labels exposed to weather when stored outside.
Database of Known Bricks
The second type of information in a brick archive is the compilation of data of known bricks for which it is not possible to collect samples for your physical brick archive. The manufacturer of these bricks no longer exists to obtain samples. The known bricks may exist at a protected historic site where collecting is prohibited. Such bricks may be in the walls of a building or brick structure for which the manufacturer is known. In such cases, the bricks would need to be documented with photographs and notes about their processing features and clay body components and this information would be stored in a database, either hand recorded or in a digital database.
The information compiled in this case would include the brick structure location (address), year of construction, brick manufacturer, brick type, measurements, color, shape, processing features, and clay body components. The goal is to record as much information as possible so that you should not have to return to the building site again to see the bricks. But, if you need to return to the building site, you can if the structure is extant.
The advantage of this type of information archive is providing documentation of bricks in a database which requires less storage space, particularly when the bricks are no longer available to examine. The disadvantage is the inconvenience of examining the physical brick for comparison at remote locations and the possibility that the brick structure may be changed, modified, or even demolished.
So, how do we know if we have a known brick? Bricks gotten directly from the manufacturer are obviously known. Bricks found at an abandoned brickyard site may or may not have been manufactured there, so we must be careful about assigning all bricks found there to the brickmaker. Most likely, the bricks found at a brickyard site were probably made there, especially if there are a majority of similar looking bricks. Information about the types of bricks made at the brickyard helps to determine this. So some research about the brickyard is helpful. If a brick looks different, especially in its clay body components, it may be a brick that was used there but not made there. For instance, it may be a buff colored firebrick that was purchased by the brickmaker from another brick manufacturer to use in the brick plant that only manufactured red common building brick.
For bricks in brick structures, information about the manufacturer of those bricks must come from some trusted sources, such as a knowledgeable person, building reports, historical reports, trade journals, newspapers, or other types of documents. The manufacturing date for the brick may be close to the date of construction of the structure, but not always. This may require some research as well. Some brick structures may not have any available reports that reveal the brickmaker, so those bricks will unfortunately remain unknown until they can be identified.
Mosier, Dan L. Method For Identifying a Brickmaker’s Brick. California Bricks, https://californiabricks.com, 2022.
Citation: Mosier, Dan L. Building a Brick Archive of Known Bricks. California Bricks, https://californiabricks.com, 2023.