What's red, has over 1600 parts, and weighs four tons? The National Building Museum's new brick collection. The Museum has been enriched with a wonderful donation of assorted bricks that were made during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries at the many brick-works that flourished throughout the United States.

Why brick? Because the Museum is committed to representing all aspects of building, including construction methods and materials, and because NBM is interested in what is common and pervasive about building. The face of American structures is most often brick, and this alone has an enormous Impact on our ideas about the built environment.

This large (and weighty) windfall occurred because of the generosity and cooperation of two donors -- Raymond Chase and the Brick Institute of America (BIA). Mr. Chase, who had assembled the collection over a span of twenty-four years, is moving from Peekskill, New York, to the Pacific Northwest and has no space at his new home for his avocation. The Brick Institute of America, a long-time supporter of NBM, has handed several earlier Museum projects, including the publication of A Handbook to the Pension Building. Both Mr. Chase and the BIA wanted the collection kept together and made available for study by the growing numbers of collectors interested in the history of the brick industry Thus Mr. Chase donated the bricks and his shelving to NBM and the BIA funded all of the transportation and installation costs.

Brick collectors identify their finds by the brick stamps, as seen in the accompanying photograph. Not all bricks are stamped - perhaps one in ten or twenty or one hundred will be stamped. Mr. Chase's interest began when he was digging in his garden and unearthed a brick stamped “Peekskill No.1.” The name of the brickwork, the year of manufacture, the city or state of origin, or a logo may be marked, or the bricks may offer advice, such as “Pray” or “Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk,” which was a health advisory for controlling tuberculosis in 1910.

In the Museum's holdings of construction materials, the bricks join glass, porcelain enamel on steel, wrought metal, artificial stone, and terra cotta; of these, the brick collection is the first to offer a survey of a major industry Brickmaking was a major industry that, until fairly recently, had enormous regional variation and thus cannot be represented by only a few examples. The Museum staff is delighted to become, in one fell swoop, the holders of a fairly comprehensive sampling of American brick.


Hudson River Brickmaking | Brick History/How Bricks Were Made
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