Researching Family History – Genealogical Needles in Haystacks!

“So uh, where are you from?”

Looking Chinese, I get this question a lot. Almost every time I meet a new person, it pops up. Depending on the situation, a sarcastic or honest reply usually follows. But it’s a difficult question to answer. I’ve never been fully comfortable with saying that I’m Chinese. I’ve been to China but once in my life – I don’t speak Chinese, I wasn’t born in China, and neither were my parents.

Despite this, we have undeniably Chinese roots. Both my grandfathers were born in China in the early 20th century. But here again there’s a separation – my grandmother (on my father’s side, at least) – was not. She was born in Singapore – at the time, a jewel in the crown of the British Empire. She grew up speaking English, along with a slew of other languages,

You can start to see why there’s hassles involved in researching my family history.

My Own Historical Journey

I only really started getting interested in genealogy after my grandmother died in 2011. She had led what I felt, was an incredible and arduous life, as well as growing up during an incredible time in history, and as part of a unique element of Chinese culture.

I knew very little about my grandparents’ lives while they were alive. My grandfather died before either my brother or I were old enough to know him, and I never felt comfortable asking grandma about him. At any rate, grandma’s worsening Alzheimer’s disease as she entered her 90s meant that by the time I was old enough to ask intelligent questions, it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to answer them. As a result, I learned most of my family history by asking my father, uncles, aunts, and older cousins.

It was only after my grandmother passed away that I gained access to a whole wad of her personal papers. Statutory declarations, passports, immigration papers, household documents, employment slips, hospital records, and even my grandfather’s death-certificate, that I was able to really delve into the history of our family – who was who, when and where they were born, and how everyone was related to everyone else. This was very exciting, but also incredibly confusing and difficult – not least because half the documents were written in a mixture of Cantonese, and Malay – two languages which I know almost nothing about!

The Difficulties of Asian Genealogy

In the Western world, tracing one’s family history is relatively easy. There are workhouse records, war-department records, immigration records, census-documents, birth and death registers, marriage records and school and university records to look through, to find out all kinds of things like when grandpa migrated to America from Italy, where and when he met grandma, what his parents and grandparents did for a living, where your Uncle Tony was born…all kinds of stuff.

Sadly such ease of access to ancestral information is next to impossible to attain for Chinese families. Centuries of war, revolution, invasion, occupation, more revolutions, more wars, more occupations and changing governments throughout China, Japan, the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and other Asian countries has meant that the likelihood of finding a complete and unbroken chain of records and dates going back more than a few generations is pretty unlikely.

Confucian Filial Piety

Another huge barrier to recording Asian genalogy is filial piety, a notion established by Chinese philosopher Confucius, centuries ago, and something which a lot of Chinese people still adhere to, to this day. Confucius stated that in everything, there was an order, a ranking and a hierarchy which had to be maintained. Every person in this hierarchy, from the emperor downwards, had a ranking and a title. This even extended to the family-unit, where every member was addressed not by name, but by rank and title. And in many Chinese families, this has continued into the 21st century.

“Alright”, I hear you say. “So what?”

Well, imagine trying to trace your family tree through even just a couple of generations, when you don’t know ANYBODY’S names. Not your grandparents’ names, not your uncles or aunts’ names, not the names of your great-grandparents, your grandparents’ siblings, their spouses…nobody, all because they would’ve been known by rank and title, and not by name.

Beginning to see the problem here?

The fact of the matter is that it is very, very difficult, unless you have access to loads of documents, and someone who is willing to sit down with you and go through them all, and explain things – especially if, unlike your parents or relations, you don’t speak your ‘mother tongue’, let alone read or write it!

Grandma’s little brother. I never knew we had a pipe-smoker in the family!

For my own part, I was lucky enough that my father’s side of the family was largely brought up Christian, and as such, almost everyone had Christian names as well as Chinese ones. This made recording names, dates and relations much, much easier! I didn’t have to think in terms of first uncle, second uncle, third uncle, second aunt, second-aunt’s husband, fourth uncle’s wife’s brother, third uncle’s cousin’s brother…

You get the idea. It can be maddeningly confusing!

Researching My Own Family

Researching family history can be a lot of fun. I found out the names of my great-grandparents, I found out when and where my grandfather was born, I found out that my grandmother had a little brother who died in the 1950s – and that he worked as an apothecary! I found out that our family has had more adoptions in, adoptions out, and adoptions around the family, than a revolving door orphanage, but it helped to explain how we got where we are, and how the current family all fits together.

Clockwise from top left: Uncle Mark, Aunty Lucy, Aunty Noni, grandma (middle), Aunty Nancy (left) and dad (on grandma’s lap!). Date: December, 1952.

I found all these details out from photographs, records, and from interviewing family members. Unfortunately for me, finding out about my family history isn’t as easy as doing a Google Search, and that means that every single unearthed speck of genealogical gold-dust that I find is precious and fascinating. If you’ve ever struggled to piece together your family history, you’ll know what I mean!

My uncle as a youngster! Born in September, 1935, he estimated this was taken just after World War Two, so he’d be about 10 years old in this picture.

For some people, knowing who they are and where they came from is a point of pride and fascination. For others, they couldn’t give a damn!…My uncle is one such person – he didn’t even keep his wedding photographs! He told me so! I have copies of them, though, and keep them as a record of everything that’s happened in our family which I’ve been able to find out.

Researching Your Own Family History

Genealogy can be a fascinating hobby, albeit a frustrating one. if you ever intend to start, then the best advice I can give is to find every elderly member of your family that’s left, with decent memories, and absolutely pump them for every single drop of information you can squeeze from them.

Living memories are better than dry words on paper, and questioning people when they’re alive means that you get more details out of them, rather than trying to figure out everything from records, after they’re dead! This is one thing I wish I’d done with my grandmother before she’d died, but unfortunately I just didn’t have the interest back then.

Next, get a-hold of all the papers you can find. Birth records, death records, passports, immigration records, in any way that you can. If you need to, get them translated! And above all, make sure that you cross-reference things. Records are not always as definitive as you’d like them to be!

My great-grandmother. Nobody knows when she was born, or when she died. She lived into her 90s, that’s all anybody seems to remember!

Once you’ve confirmed what you know, write it down! On the backs of photographs, in a family bible, in a document that you’re keeping – anything! Once lost, information like this is never won back, so guard it jealously! And make things easier for future generations (should you intend to have any), by keeping, saving and recording everything that you can, if not for your own children, then for your nieces and nephews further on down the line. You never know who might be interested in who came before them!

 

Using Your Antiques – Having Fun with History

One question I do occasionally get asked from people, when I tell them that my main hobby is collecting antiques, is:

“Why?” 

Or more precisely:

“What do you do with them!?” 

Well, to answer that publicly: It depends!

A discussion held with the mother of a longtime friend prompted this posting, and it made me think about my antiques, and what I do, or don’t do with them. And I decided it’d be interesting to examine the issue and share the answer in detail. So, what is the answer?

In short, the answer is that unless the antique is particularly fragile, small or breakable, the overwhelming chances are that I’ll probably just…use it! – as an everyday object, which I admit, I do with a lot of my antiques on a regular basis.

At least 2-3 times a week, I shave with my antique razor, from the 1880s…

I sharpen the blade, I strop the edge, and I put cold steel to my neck at least every 2-3 days, and I don’t just go through the motions – it really does shave!

On top of that, I write with my antique and vintage fountain pens from the 1910s and 1920s, 30s and 40s when I work or when I have to write out drafts or take notes. When I go to the theatre or out to some big, public event, I bring along a pair of opera glasses or binoculars from my collection of antiques, dating back as far as the 1880s…

If I’m going to see something particularly far away, then it might be my pocket telescope, from the 1890s…

If I need to tell the time, I keep a watch in my pocket, secured by a chain…

…this silver beauty is from 1925; and I have another gold-filled railroad chronometer from 1950 which I use every day.

Of course, antiques aren’t always the cute pretty things, they’re also the useful, serviceable things that we like to buy and use and decorate our homes and rooms with. Just last night, I smashed up some chili, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper and tomatoes in this antique Dutch brass mortar and pestle, while I was cooking dinner. Yes, it’s 200 years old, but these were made for regular pounding and grinding – my using it was never going to damage it if centuries of use haven’t done so already! And apart from anything else, using this instead of a food-processor is just so much more fun to do!!

That said, I don’t use all my antiques. Some are just too large, too small, too old or fragile to use on a daily, or even infrequent basis. These are ones which I collect mainly to enjoy, to photograph, to use for demonstrative purposes, or to protect and restore for future generations (what? That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!!).

Is it Safe to use Antiques?

Provided that you use your antiques for the purposes for which they were intended, and don’t overtax their abilities, for the most part, it’s perfectly safe to use your antiques. of course, some things hold up better than others. Antique metalware, silverware, mechanical antiques, brassware, furniture, musical or scientific instruments, tools, domestic appliances and pieces of specialist equipment tend to hold up better, as they were intended to be used on a regular basis, anyway. So long as you store them properly, look after them, maintain them and clean them, they’ll be in no danger of damage.

Other pieces should be treated with more care. Books, newspapers, textiles and fabrics, glassware and porcelain can still be used, but are best kept for occasional use, or for special occasions. That’s not to say that you can’t use it, but it’s best to keep it for instances where you really want to show them off.

Items made of natural products (ivory, bone, leather, etc) can decay or deteriorate over time. Depending on what these items are, they should be used sparingly, or not at all. Antique leather, especially, is prone to drying out, cracking, ripping and tearing. Unless you moisturize it regularly with appropriate leather-treatment ointments and creams, it can deteriorate very quickly from improper or heavy use.

So, is it safe to use and enjoy the antiques that you have in your collection? Or do you have to keep them locked up in safes, behind glass, and in protective steel cages?

In general – yes, it is safe, provided the item isn’t obviously fragile or prone to damage, and provided you use it in a manner, and for the purpose with which it was intended.

That said, it is entirely up to you whether you use something or not. There’s no law saying that you have to use your antiques, and there’s no rule that says you can’t use them; just keep in mind that future generations will likely look upon you with scorn or smirking, if you used something recklessly and smashed it, or kept something perfectly useful up on some sort of pedestal out of a misplaced fear of damaging it!

 

Photographic Memories: A Pictorial Tour of Family History

When a person dies, the only things you have left to remember them by are their personal possessions, your own recollections, and any images which were taken of them during their lifetime.

All too often, photographs are unmarked, undated, unnamed, and un-remembered. Soon, you’ll find yourself looking through boxes, books and albums full of old snapshots, with the faces of the nameless and forgotten dead, staring ominously at you for all of eternity.

This set of circumstances might not bother some people, but for others, it can be downright depressing, and frustrating, to not know who someone in a photograph is, especially if the picture is rare, or has some sort of family significance.

I recently had such a case, which I’ve decided to write about. It concerns the following photograph:

Click on the photograph for a higher-resolution image!

The hard copy of this photograph is in the custody of my Uncle John – one of the several thousand Uncle Johns in the world – all of whom, I’m sure, are equally as interesting, fun and fascinating as my own. But this is my Uncle John, and in my own roundabout way, I want to thank him for preserving this snapshot so wonderfully, and for rescuing it and keeping it safe for the family.

This photograph sat in my Uncle John’s home for years. I don’t know how long he’s had it, and I never recall seeing it in the many times I’ve visited his home for Christmas, and other events, but apparently that’s where it’s been for many, many years. Indeed, it was only because of a family reunion several months ago that I learned of the photograph’s existence!

So, what is the significance of it? 

Well, to put it simply, it is a photographic record of my grandmother’s family, and its very existence means a lot to me, purely because we don’t have very many photographs of my grandparents or their extended family which have survived. Because of that, getting to see this photo has helped me learn more about my own family history, and has helped to clear up more than a couple of things which I could never understand about my family tree!

Such is the power of old family snapshots. They bring back memories, and they are an indelible record of what has, or hasn’t happened during the lifetimes of relations who have since passed on.

So, who are the people in the photograph?

The photograph depicts my grandmother, her sisters, her brother, their mother – my great-grandmother – as well as spouses and in-laws. Grandma, her sisters and brother are No. 2, 4, 6 (grandma!), and 7 in the photograph, from left to right, with great-grandma seated out the front. The others are my great-uncle’s two wives (yes, such things happened in Malaya back then), and another sister-in-law (far left). There is yet another sister in the family, which isn’t included in the photograph.

Apart from my grandmother, and my Great-Aunt Annie (3rd in the photograph), I’ve never met anybody in this photograph. Most either lived too far away, or were already dead (such as Great Uncle Jackie in the middle, and Great Grandma out the front, who died in the 1950s, and in 1976, respectively).

How Old is the Photograph? 

As best as we can determine, the photograph dates to ca. 1954/5, at which time, my grandmother (born 1914), would be around 40 years old. She was the oldest of four sisters and one brother, and Uncle Jackie was the youngest.

What are they Wearing?

The clothing represented in the photograph is a mix of styles. My great-aunt on the far right, my grandmother’s sister-in-law, on the far left, and my great-grandmother (front and center) are wearing a traditional Straits-Chinese/Peranakan outfit called Sarong Kebaya. Sarong is the wraparound skirt, Kebaya is the close-fitting, light-material blouse buttoned over the top. This is capped off with traditional, hand-beaded Peranakan slippers.

My grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s family were ‘peranakan’, also called ‘Straits Chinese’, Ethnic Chinese who lived in Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia. Today, the Peranakan are a small subset of the Chinese diaspora, and are only found in Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia, and after World War Two, further afield in other countries.

By contrast with my great-grandmother and her daughter, my Great-Uncle Jackie, and one of his wives are wearing more Western-style clothing – A suit and bowtie, and a blouse and skirt.

Great-Aunt Annie (third-left) and grandma (second-right) are wearing a type of dress called a Cheongsam, a rather formal-type Chinese dress, popularised in Shanghai, in the Roaring Twenties! You’ll notice that both dresses are made of the same material. Grandmother was a dressmaker, and most likely, made both dresses for them!

If you look REALLY closely, you’ll notice that my great-aunt on the far-right, and my great-grandmother, are not only dressed in traditional ‘Nyonya’ outfits, but are also wearing traditional Peranakan jewelry! My great-aunt is wearing a Nyonya silver belt (to hold her sarong up), and my great-grandmother is wearing what’s called a ‘kerongsang’, a set of (usually three) brooches, used to hold the kebaya together.

This is my grandmother’s nickel-silver Peranakan belt, of the same style, one of two such belts which have survived in our family, and which I treasure above almost anything else! These belts are extremely rare today. They were all hand-made, and each one was a one-off artisan piece, produced by a Peranakan silversmith or jeweler. Many of them are family heirlooms.

Concluding Remarks

Learning about the family history behind this photograph meant a lot of picking the brains of my collective aunts and uncles, and it wasn’t easy, since no one person knew the entire background of everybody in the photograph! Finding out who everyone was, who their children were, who they were married to, birth-dates, death-dates, descendants and so-on, involved interrogating every relation I could find! (Thanks to Uncle John, Uncle Henry, Aunty Lily, and dad for filling in SO MANY BLANK SPACES!!!)

Regrettably, the collective knowledge of the family didn’t go back very far, only one or two generations at most. Nevertheless, I intend to record it all!! Once we lose this information, we’ll never get it back, and I don’t intend to lose any of it, if I can help it! There’s no Graveyard Google or anything to consult, so I hope to get everything written up properly soon. Eventually, I intend to create little information-cards to stick into the back of the fresh, printed copies of the photograph, and keep them there as a record of family history, such as it is.

 

Mid-Victorian Mahogany-Sleeved Naval Telescope. Ca. 1860.

“Cap’n! Presents off the larboard bow!” 
“I see ’em! Ready the launch! You there – come about into the wind! We’ll not let them escape us now! Bring up the harpoons!” 

The greatest thing about collecting antiques is that you always find the best birthday presents for yourself, if you search hard enough! I picked up this stunning beauty for my birthday! Yes, I’m officially…29. Oh, the horror, shame, and disgrace of it all…!


Up Close and Personal!

Aaaaanyway… 

What we have here is an old-fashioned nautical telescope, as was used on the sailing-ships of old. And boy is it ever a monster! It’s 11in. closed, extends to 39in drawn out, and weighs a substantial 1lb 10oz (approx 750g)! A lightweight, it ain’t!

Features of Construction

This stunning antique features entirely brass construction, with the exception of the wooden sleeve around the barrel, and of course, the glass in the lenses. It is possessed of four, brass draw-tubes, as you can see in the photograph below:


All Drawn Out… 

A four-tube telescope means that it has four tubular extensions which collapse into each other, and which then all slide into the main barrel at the front of the telescope.

I’m not sure how old this telescope is, to be honest. It’s of a style that was widely manufactured from the 1700s right up to the 1900s, but the fellow I got it from believed it to be from around 1850 or 1860. For something roughly 150 years old — after extensive cleaning — it does work pretty well! The threaded brass coupling-rings hold well (or they do, after a minor adjustment), and the tubes slide in and out smoothly, if a bit more firmly than I’m used to!

The telescope has a two-piece achromatic lens at the front, a two-lens relay system inside the smallest draw-tube, and an eyepiece lens at the far end – so four (or five, depending on how you count it), lenses in all!


Here it is, next to my solid brass, pocket telescope from the 1890s. As you can see, there’s a huge size difference! 

As one would probably expect from something like this, it’s got a GREAT range, and surprisingly clear optics for a piece that’s obviously seen quite a hard life. There’s one small blemish on an interior lens which, try as I might, I couldn’t remove, but other than that – the clarity is impressive.

Using the Telescope

Since it is 150 years old, I expected the telescope to be dirty. I didn’t expect it to be THIS dirty! It required EXTENSIVE cleaning to get it to function even halfway decent! And I’m still cleaning it! But despite that, it’s beginning to show signs of the smoothness of function it once had.

To draw the telescope, I’ve found it’s best to hold it at the near end of the barrel (away from the lens) and to pull firmly, but smoothly, to get the draw tubes out, and to hold the barrel in the middle, when snapping the tubes shut again.

As I said, this telescope is quite chunky, so using it can be a bit of a challenge. I generally hold the largest, or second-largest draw-tube in order to balance this beast, and then adjust the focus by sliding the smallest draw-tube in and out, until clarity is achieved.

The good thing is that this is done relatively easily. The bad thing is that it’s surprisingly tiring on the arms! A telescope that weighs about a pound and a half doesn’t sound like much to carry around (and it isn’t), but when you’ve held it up in one hand for any length of time while trying to look through it, the weight does start to pull on your shoulders a bit! One wonders how the sailors of old ever managed to use this thing on the rocking, rolling deck of a sailing ship!

Cleaning the Telescope

The one saving grace about this telescope – and most telescopes of this design – is that they’re extraordinarily easy to clean. All the draw-tubes, lenses and coupling-rings screw together. All you need is a box of tissues, some oil, and a firm grip to screw and unscrew, and you can pull apart the entire telescope to clean it. There aren’t that many parts, and there’s no way you can confuse one part for another, so they’re very easy to put back together again.

You don’t need any special tools or equipment – just a few basic cleaning supplies and a spare afternoon. I think it’s amazing how something which is so easily assembled is at the same time, so incredibly powerful, and yet, so simply constructed. Even a child could do this. I love the thoughtfulness of the design in that the manufacturer imagined that the owner might want to disassemble his own telescope for cleaning and maintenance. I don’t know many consumer products today which are this user-friendly!

Repairing the Telescope

As much fun as this telescope is to use and to clean and polish, when I bought it, the telescope also had one significant flaw – It wouldn’t stay together.

As I said above, the telescope’s components quite literally just screw, one-into-the-other, in a set sequence of construction. Easily followed and impossible to screw up. A few good twists would be all that’d be needed to pull the thing apart, clean it, and reassemble it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with this telescope.

Probably due to overzealous cleaning in the past, or possibly a manufacturing fault, or simply just 150-years’ worth of wear and tear, the thread that held in the largest draw-tube (the one which connects to the barrel) was not gripping properly. It simply refused to hold. After screwing it in as hard as possible, it’d simply pop right out again after one good pull! Hardly ideal!

I pulled the telescope apart and cleaned the threads, and then to fix this problem, I wrapped ordinary paper masking-tape around the threads on the coupling-ring. Just once.


Group Shot! My big telescope, my small telescope, and my field glasses all together. All brass, all antique. What a pretty trio they make.

I trimmed off the excess tape with a pocket-knife, and then screwed the two components back together. No oil, no graphite powder, nothing. Just a simple layer of sticky tape. It cost me literally nothing! and yet…the repair worked!

Just one layer of tape was all I needed to build up the necessary thickness, friction and ‘bite’ necessary for the threads to screw in smoothly, and for the connection to hold! it took me less than five minutes to repair. Don’t be daunted by broken antiques – sometimes all it takes is a bit of creativity to return them to full functionality.

Video

Last but not least, here’s a short video I made about the telescope:

 

As Bold as Brass: Braving Antique Brassware

In looking over my blog I find that I have written about antique silver and how to read hallmarks, and various ways of cleaning antique silver and brass, but that  I haven’t covered antique brassware itself, as a subject. Something I’m rather surprised at, considering that I love things made of brass! That being the case, what follows is a brief look at brassware. Some of its history, its range of applications, and why it was used for so many products for so many hundreds of years.

Solid brass fire extinguisher. Ca. 1915-1930. 

A Brief Brassy History

Brass in one form or another, has existed since ancient times, but it wasn’t until after the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance era of the 1400s that brass as we know it today (an alloy of roughly 90% copper and 10% zinc) was discovered.

Early forms of brass were crude. Copper was the main ingredient, but the alloying metal could be any white metal which was available – tin (which would make either bronze, or pewter, depending on the ratios), and even lead!


Mortars and pestles were made of bronze, and then brass, for many centuries. 

Zinc, the metal now used in conjunction with copper to make brass, started being available in Europe in the late 1500s. Prior to this point, most items were made of bronze – such as bells, door-knockers, and even early cannons! But with zinc now recognised as a new metal, its addition to copper to make brass heralded a new age in metalworking.

Its brightness meant that zinc lent to copper a light and reflective sheen, not always seen in bronze. This is what gives brass its bright and glittering shine, and just why it can be polished to such a stunning brilliance.

Brass’s inability to rust (since it contains no iron), and its bright sheen, has made it popular for centuries as the go-to metal for all kinds of products and household implements. Strength, rustproofing, easily cleaned, and with a golden shimmer. What could possibly be better?

Stuff Made of Brass

Ever since its discovery, and the refinement of the formula from which brass is made, brass has been used to make a truly staggering array of items over the centuries. Among other things, items made of brass include:

  • Candleholders.
  • Chandeliers.
  • Tableware.
  • Bells.
  • Gas-lighting fixtures.
  • Lanterns.
  • Lamps.
  • Fire-extinguishers.
  • Telescopes and binoculars.
  • Magnifying glasses.
  • Window-fittings.
  • Hardware on early cars.
  • Hardware on trunks and suitcases.
  • Mortars and pestles.

The reasons why so many things were made of brass were numerous.


Victorian-era brass telescope

Until the creation of the Bessemer Process for producing large amounts of steel became possible, brass was the go-to metal for a lot of applications. It was easier to produce, was long-lasting and had an attractive shine. Unlike steel, brass did not have to be painted, oiled or plated to prevent it from rusting and corroding. It could be lacquered if desired, to preserve its shine, but other than the occasional cleaning, required minimal maintenance.

Brass was extensively used in seafaring, for making things like clocks, compasses, telescopes, binoculars, bells, binnacles, telegraphs, portholes and countless other fittings and accessories found on board ships between the 1700s to the 1900s. Brass was the only metal that would reliably withstand such long-term contact with water.

Early motor-cars (veteran or ‘brass-era’ cars) used a lot of brass in their construction – most notably for headlights, window-frames, radiators, dials and gauges. Most cars were open-topped, based on carriage-designs of the era, and similar components made from steel wouldn’t have lasted. At the same time, early cars were expensive, and manufacturers wanted their vehicles to look attractive. One way of doing this was by outfitting their cars with attractive, brass hardware.

The Rise of Steel

Brass was used for a wide variety of applications well into the 20th century. It was not until after the First World War that the newly-invented stainless steel, which was much more resistant to rusting, and which could be produced in large quantities, started replacing brass in any serious way.

Regardless of this, brass continued to be the metal of choice in a number of manufacturing processes. Until the quartz revolution of the 1970s and 80s, mechanical watches and clocks were all made with brass gears and wheels, although this too, is now slowly being taken over by stainless steel. That said, there are some companies and some products which were, and which continue to be made of brass almost exclusively, either for tradition, or necessity, or style.

A lot of products commonly made of brass are now made of steel – like these Victorian-era countertop bells.

Zippo cigarette lighters are, except in rare circumstances, almost entirely made of brass. Occasionally some are made of steel, or sterling silver, or solid gold (usually collector pieces made in limited numbers), but apart from this, they’re almost all made of brass, and then usually plated, or finished in some manner, to hide the metal.


Solid brass chamberstick, modeled after a design from the 1600s 

Some companies (such as the Skultuna brass foundry) still produce high quality brassware in the form of candleholders, mortars and pestles, pitchers and jugs, and various other homewares, drawn to brass by its golden shine.

Brass has sadly died out as the go-to metal for manufacturing in the 21st century. I’m not sure why this is, really. I suppose it’s because cheap, rustproof steel is easier to obtain and brass has simply gone out of fashion. Either way, I love antique and vintage brass, and I’ll always be seeking it out and collecting it, selling it, trading it, and of course, polishing it!