White bronze monuments are neither white nor bronze. These markers are made of zinc. Produced by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, CT, between 1874 and 1914, these unique monuments can be found throughout the country. At first glance they appear to be a detailed stone with a blue-gray cast. As you get closer, the difference becomes more obvious. Because these monuments were cast, not cut, some are quite detailed. They have stood up to the harsh environment of the coastal south. White bronze markers in the St. Augustine area have maintained their detail more than many carved marble pieces of the same age.
One problem with white bronze monuments – especially the larger, taller monuments – is called creep. The weight of the metal causes the monument to slowly settle causing cracks and even breaks.
The Monumental Bronze Company sold the monuments through a series of subsidiaries located around the country. Markers ranged from $2 to $5,000. A catalog of standard styles – like the rounded marker in the photo above – was used by salesmen to market the product. The plates containing burial details were cast separately and bolted to the standard marker using decorative screws. The marker shown below is a larger version of the small marker above and shows the text detail.
One would think that Florida would have been a major market for these monuments. We have no local stones suitable for carving and the cost of shipping stone monuments from Charleston had to be exorbitant. These metal monuments were much cheaper and easier to ship and would seem to be a reasonable alternative. While I do find these markers in several local cemeteries, the numbers are quite small. It appears that marketing was the toughest challenge for the company.
A detailed history of the Monumental Bronze Company can be found at the Kent County Civil War Monument restoration site. This group in Grand Rapids is working to restore a white bronze monument in a downtown park.