Two brick-lit posts in one week? What a gift!
In the October 5, 1920 edition of the Brick and Clay Record, the editors suggested that December ‘twould be the season for spreading holiday cheer through brick-themed Christmas cards. “Officials of the association have put their heads together, and produced a fine set of Christmas cards…All winter scenes are used, each typifying an important use for brick.”
Below are some close-ups of the cards, 25,000 of which were made and sent out to the “building public.”
“May your home be invaded at this season with that good cheer that comes from the warmth and security of walls that exclude all unfriendly elements.”
“If it was not for brick, there would be no fireplaces. If there were not fireplaces, there would be no Santa Claus.”
Here in Baltimore, the Champion Brick Company (a relatively small outfit on the East side of town) put out their own Christmas card in 1947. Happy Holidays from bricklaying Santa and all of us on Eager Street.
We’ve already had Charles Varle tout our bricks as being both bold and beautiful, but his rave came from 1833. For a more recent review, we now turn to George Washington Howard, who wrote all about Baltimore bricks in his 1873 sketch of the city titled, “The Monumental City: Its Past History and Present Resources”.
“The clay in the vicinity of Baltimore, the finest in the world, is peculiarly adapted to the manufacture of Brick…The quality of Bricks made in the City is unsurpassed by that of any made in the world, as is evidenced by the fact that they are shipped to all seaport towns and along all the different railroad lines leading out of Baltimore.”
It’s true. As early as the mid 19th century (when high transportation costs meant that brickmaking was largely a local enterprise), prized Baltimore bricks were shipped to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. We’ve picked, cleaned, and palletized about 75,000 bricks so far, so we can assure you that our bricks are every bit as solid as GWH’s endorsement.
I wanted to start this post by saying that bricks get a bad rap, but that’s not entirely true. It’d be more accurate to say that bricks get no rap; they’re so ubiquitous that they’re hardly noticed. On Eager Street, we notice bricks- we’ve salvaged about 40,000 of them so far. Every brick we handle was produced by the Baltimore Brick Company. A larger post dedicated to the BBC is forthcoming, but we thought we’d share this gem we found in the Vertical Files of the Enoch Pratt Library.
The Baltimore Brick Company was presented with the dilemma of fully acknowledging the prosaic and, frankly, boring nature of their product while, well, trying to sell that product. Behold their masterpiece:
“The lowly brick. And yet…A mighty factor in the Progress of Baltimore.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
The building in the illustration is what we now call the Bank of America building, but it was called the Baltimore Trust Building when it was built in 1929. The words “built in 1929” usually spell trouble: the massive cost of construction (around $3 million) collided with the Great Depression, resulting in the eventual bankruptcy of the Baltimore Trust Company. The building was largely vacant within a year.
Eventually the building achieved steady occupancy and became the iconic member of the Baltimore skyline you see in the above photo. It also became a shining 34-story advertisement for the quality product of the Baltimore Brick Company, the same folks who made our bricks on Eager Street. Next up for the copper-peaked beaut: it’s being turned in 445 luxury apartments.
We like to talk a lot about how great our bricks are, but we’re going to start letting other folks do the talking for us. First up, Mr. Charles Varle, who we couldn’t interview because he died roughly 150 years ago. Nonetheless, here is his take, as recorded in his 1833 monograph “A Complete View of Baltimore”:
“The best bricks in the US are manufactured in Baltimore, and the exportation of that branch of industry is now considerable.”
Thanks, Mr. Varle! We couldn’t agree more.
In this installation of BKAB, we’re going to talk about spalling.
Water is an enemy of masonry, and this relentless and ubiquitous foe can can cause bricks to spall. Spalling describes the gradual process of brick erosion stemming from moisture trapped and released during freeze/thaw cycles. This moisture can come from contact with the ground, or it can seep through overlaying layers of plaster, or it can be the result of direct contain with rain. When most people think of porosity, a brick is likely to be among the last things that come to mind, but bricks are indeed porous, with some bricks being much more so than others. When the moisture absorbed by a brick freezes, it expands, creating slight fractures in the brick in the process. During a thaw, the moisture is released, along with the tiny flakes of brick created during the freeze.
Not all bricks are created equal, however. Bricks fired at higher temperatures for longer are generally less porous, so they are less susceptible to spalling. Take the bricks on Eager Street, for instance. The bricks we’ve harvested are not nearly as porous as many others, and for this reason we’ve seen practically no spalling. In fact, the foundations of the houses on Eager Street are made of brick, which some folks see as a no-no because contact with ground moisture could cause deterioration. But the foundation bricks of the Eager Street houses are super hard with very little porosity, fired high and long to that beautiful purple color you’ve seen in some of the photos.
Powdery bricks called “salmon bricks” because of their telltale color were intended for interior wythes and were not designed to withstand the elements. But what happens when a rowhouse is demolished, leaving its neighbor with an exposed party wall that might be composed of weaker bricks? If left exposed to the elements, the bricks would likely crumble to dust. Such walls are generally plastered over with an impervious material, but cracks or leaks in this surface layer might actually create channels for moisture to seep in and become trapped! While salmon and water mix just fine, salmon brick and water don’t. See the photo below for proof.