Collecting Bricks

Bricks on the bayshore.

By Dan L. Mosier

Brick collecting can be fun and educational. Once you start collecting and researching bricks, you will never look at bricks the same way again. Brick collectors want to know what type of brick it is, who manufactured it, what brickmaking process was used, and when and where was it made. Bricks in general are easy to find, but some may be rare and difficult to find. The low price of bricks makes it an affordable hobby. Bricks have little monetary value, partly because most collectors would rather find or trade with other brick collectors. In fact, the International Brick Collectors Association, which has hundreds of members worldwide, discourages the buying and selling of antique bricks. Members meet at their swap meets to freely trade bricks. 

Many collectors search for bricks that are stamped with a brand name or a statement or an artistic design. There are many types of brick, such as pressed brick, firebrick, face brick, paving brick, ornamental brick, hollow-tile brick, and even common duty brick. They come in various sizes and colors, including white, gray, cream, buff, yellow, salmon, pink, red, brown, and black. Bricks may have interesting shapes and textures. Some collect bricks because they are associated with an historic event or a famous building or person. It’s like owning a piece of history.

Brick collection.

Collectors can find bricks just about anywhere. Some of the places where I have found bricks include former brickyards, construction sites, abandoned building sites, demolition sites, dump sites, along stream courses, and beaches. I have purchased a few at garage sales, flea markets, and building materials yards usually for a few dollars. At building demolition sites, I ask workers if they could spare a brick; some are happy to give. Some collectors will trade bricks. But once your friends learn about your unique hobby, they will become your best source of bricks. Many of the bricks in my collection were given to me by friends and family who love to find bricks for me.

Bricks found in the field will often be dirty and caked with mortar. To clean such bricks, use a cold chisel and hammer to knock off the mortar. An awl or a 4-inch nail works well in removing mortar in smaller areas around the brand name and frog. Remove the mortar carefully so as not to damage the lettering or the edges of the frog. Some bricks are soft and will crack or break if hit too hard with the chisel. For stubborn mortar, soak the brick in a bucket of cold water for a day or two to make it easier to remove the mortar. After removing the mortar, give the brick a good scrub with a brush with plastic bristles and some water to remove the remaining dirt. Add a little dishwash soap or borax to the water if needed. Your bricks will be clean and ready for display.

So how do collectors display their brick collection? Some may have specially made shelves to hold those rare and important bricks. Some practical collectors like to set them in the patio or sidewalks. Others will use them to decorate brick walls or border gardens. Some bricks of local interest are displayed in museums. The great thing about bricks is that they are durable, so they can be stored or displayed just about anywhere.

The most challenging part about brick collecting is the historical research. Information about bricks is not easily found and may require some searching in local history books, trade journals, directories, and newspapers. Brick company catalogs and advertisements are good sources to check. For California and Pacific Northwest bricks, there is an excellent book by Karl Gurcke entitled Bricks and Brickmaking, University of Idaho Press, 1987. Also the bulletins and reports of the California Division of Mines and Geology. But hopefully this website should ease the pain of finding that information.