By Kirsti Scott
The humble brick has been used in construction ever since humans realized they could make building materials by drying clay in the sun. In around 3,500 BC, a breakthrough came with the invention of kiln-fired brick, making it possible for people to make bricks without the hot sun. In the 19th century, brickmaking machines were introduced, making brick-and-mortar construction widespread.
Brickmaking has developed over the millennia and bricks are still used in all kinds of construction, as they are natural, inexpensive, durable, and relatively lightweight. Brick manufacturers typcially sprang up in areas where soils were rich in clay, and bricks are still used in projects around the world. Today, 1.5 trillion bricks are manufactured annually worldwide.
Generally speaking, bricks are small, rectangular blocks that are used for building. No matter where and when they are manufactured, they are very similar. A regular shape makes them easy to transport and they are lighter than stone. One way that brickmakers make bricks lighter is by having an indent or holes in the center. The indent on a brick is called a frog, and brickmakers often stamp their name or location in that spot on the top. The name was never meant to be seen in a finished building, and instead we only see the words on bricks when the building using the bricks is demolished.
Tuttle bricks found in Connecticut, Carole Roche. The Tuttle Brick Company operated in Middletown, Connecticut, from 1842 to the 1930s. Their high-quality bricks, made with clay from the Quinnipiac River mixed with local shale, were used throughout New England in the construction of mills, public buildings, and homes.
Bricks are collected by “brickophiles” around the world. Some collect bricks from a certain location or a certain manufacturer, and some collect those of a certain shape or color. There are many types of bricks, including building, paving, and fire bricks, used in kilns and furnaces. What matters to collectors is the condition of the brick, the rarity, the color, and the names, designs, and patterns branded on them.
Century-old bricks from Edgewater Beach and Perkin’s Beach, Cleveland, Stephen Rae. The nearby community on the south shore of Lake Erie is home to beautiful mansions from the early 20th century. It is not unusual to find the bricks from these homes, patios, and roads sprinkled out along the shoreline, which collectors find and re-purpose for their own patio or backyard walkways. You can also find the rounded off remnants of these bricks on the beach, which makes a nice display of red and orange in the sand along with occasional beach glass.
Collectible bricks can be found in former brickyards, construction sites, abandoned buildings, dumps, and beaches. Throughout time, one of the easiest places to discard rubbish was on a nearby beach, so many discarded bricks have ended up on beaches. It’s sometimes possible to track down the history of a beach-found brick when there are letters that are still legible. Though bricks often travel far from where they are made, there are so many manufacturers that bricks tend to be used in construction near where they are manufactured. When a beachcomber finds a brick on their beach, there’s a good chance that it was made nearby.
Graves bricks from the “Forgotten Coast” in Florida, Jane Kirk. The Graves Brick company operated in Birmingham, Alabama, from 1900 to 1920. The small beach in the Florida Panhandle where this ten-pound brick was found is prone to heavy storms and hurricanes, and many homes, cars, and boats have been destroyed and the remains blown into the waters in and around this area.
Some bricks are known from where they were made, such as the Cream City brick made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Dutch brick made in the Netherlands, or the Staffordshire blue brick from England. The rest present a chance for beachcombers to learn about the local brickmakers who built the cities near our beaches hundreds—or even thousands—of years ago.
Savage brick, Illinois, Tarah Hoffmann. Boston brick, Scott Smith. Star brick, New Jersey, Michele Lane. Swanky brick, New Jersey, Kristina Braga.
River bricks, Allegheny River, Chris Ann Buday. Christy brick, Chicago, Christine Solorio. Balgonie Colliery and Bowman & Co. bricks, Scotland, Craig and Nicole Lind, Scottish Mudlarking. BCOXX brick, Chicago, Christine Solorio.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2022 issue.