Reproducing brasses and incised slabs
Most brasses can be rubbed without causing damage to the brass itself. The exception
If you do find a brass that is coming loose please report this to:
Mr H.M. Stuchfield F.S.A.
Hon. Conservation Officer, MBS
Lowe Hill House
Stratford St Mary
Suffolk CO7 6JX
Greater caution should be exercised when taking a copy of incised slabs. Only attempt to take a rubbing or dabbing when the entire surface of the slab is in sound condition. If the surrounding floor or wall is damp, the surface of the slab may be crumbling or flaking away or may be damaged by surface salts. In these conditions the lightest pressure of rubbing or dabbing can easily cause the worst affected parts of the surface to break away, causing irreparable damage to the slab. The only feasible method of making a satisfactory record of slabs with unstable surfaces without damaging them is photography.
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To rub a brass you will need the following items:
Paper; a roll of strong but not thick paper, which will not yellow with age. The
best is all-
Wax 'Astral' heelball, available in sticks and hand-
Masking tape Available from hardware stores, this is used to secure the paper to the stone. Alternatives, such as sellotape, are ineffective and can cause damage.
To rub a brass:
Click here to see illustrations of the steps below
The method outlined above makes 'negative rubbings' in which the surface of the brass
is coloured black, gold or whatever colour is chosen and the engraved lines are left
white. 'Positive rubbings', which in which the lines are black with the surface left
white, provide an excellent base for the application of decorative colour for heraldic
dress or shields of arms. To achieve this follow the procedure for negative rubbings
above. Then when you get home rub over the surface of the rubbing with a rag soaked
in waterproof black ink. It will colour the paper only on the un-
This is the best way of recording incised slabs and is particularly effective in recording alabaster slabs which retain coloured mastic in the lines. The details of the composition are best brought out with the help of a florescent light source positioned at a low angle so that the incised lines are shadowed.
Brasses can also be photographed, but great care must be taken to ensure that the
brass is evenly lit, ideally using photoflood sources. The use of a camera-
For detailed advice on photographing brasses read:
M. Norris and M. Kellett Your Book of Brasses (London, 1974), pages 59-
This is particularly effective for brasses which are worn or finely engraved.
To dab a brass you will need the following kit:
Paper Tissue paper is best, but thin detail paper can also be used.
Dabber Take a ball of cotton wool about the size of a fist and place it on a piece of chamois leather, then secure the leather tightly round the ball.
Powdered graphite Available from art supplies shops.
Linseed oil Available from hardware stores. An alternative is a good quality salad oil.
Fixative spray Available from art supplies shops.
Two pieces of cardboard or hardboard about a foot square
1. Prepare the dabbing medium by mixing oil and graphite to a stiff paste with a palette knife on one piece of cardboard.
2. Fix the paper as described in steps 1-
3. Dip the dabber into the paste Wipe off any surplus onto the second piece of cardboard.
4. Press the dabber onto the paper Avoid any rubbing movement as this will stretch the paper. Work systematically covering the whole brass and recharging the dabber with paste as necessary.
5. Fix the dabbing with the fixative spray to avoid smudges (optional).
You may be able to find heelball and brass rubbing detail paper in good art supplies shops. Alternatively they are available by post at the following prices:
At present there is no known supplier of Astral heelball. As and when the situation changes, the website will be updated.
Several brands of a reasonable substitute wax are available from a mail order firm,
Whitewinds. The wax that is recommended is the Cirencester Brand -
Geuffos Farm, Bryn Dulas Road,
Abergele LL22 8NA
Tel: 0044 (0)1492 516644
Fax: 0044 (0)1492 516561
Whitewinds (contact details above) sell only black brass rubbing paper.
Black brass rubbing paper is available from:
"The Brush and Compass"
Graphic and fine art materials shop
14 Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3AS
Telephone 01865 246481.
As of early June 2003 they have in stock C300 detail paper, 53 gm2, 841 x 25 m. re-
All rag white brass rubbing detail paper is getting harder to find and supplies appear erratic. Two other suppliers who have had such paper recently are:
Broad Canvas of Oxford (telephone 01865 244025; the contacts are Joan or Peter), reported price £9.45 plus VAT for a 10 yard roll of 30 inch white paper.
The Paper House
19A Greengate St
There are a number of collections of rubbings of brasses, many of which contain rubbings of lost brasses and rubbings of brasses which have since been mutilated.
The most complete collections of brass rubbings are held at:
The Society of Antiquaries of London.
Cambridge University Library.
Ashmolean Library, Oxford.
Victoria and Albert Museum.
The only national collection of rubbings and dabbings of incised slabs is held in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
In addition, the Monumental Brass Society is setting up The Malcolm Norris Research Centre at the University of Birmingham Library, which will contain a collection of brass rubbings, as well as other items relating to the MBS and brasses.