About the Collection

Brass Rubbings Collection

By Professor Emeritus George Vane

The Hamline collection of approximately 1100 rubbings, probably one of the larger collections in the world and undoubtedly the largest in United States, includes 116 rubbings from the fourteenth century, 432 from the fifteenth, 434 from the sixteenth, 105 from the seventeenth, and over a dozen from later times. Most fourteenth century military brasses extant are to be found in the collection as well as a broad range of military, civilian, and ecclesiastical brasses from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and early seventeen centuries.

This notable collection was primarily the work of two groups of students during the January interims of 1975 and 1976. Under a program funded with two grants from the Jerome Foundation of St. Paul, the project was initiated, led, and supervised by three Hamline professors: Walter Benjamin, Department of Religion; Clifford Creswell, Department of Chemistry, and George Vane, Department of English. Each year the leaders carefully planned the logistics of the trip: identifying brasses to be rubbed, securing permission from the vicars and rectors of the various parish churches with brasses, and setting up a daily schedule of rubbing for each of three groups in three different parts of the country. In addition, in the months before leaving for England, students were given instruction and experience both in the techniques of rubbing and in recording necessary details about the brasses, such as the date of the engraving, the type, the placement in the church, and any indications of shields, religious emblems, merchant marks, etc. With few exceptions, the response from the vicars was gratifying. As a result, once the groups were in England, there was a minimum of difficulty in carrying through the project.

Anyone examining the resulting rubbings must applaud the careful work done by the students whose rubbings are of museum quality. It is fitting, then, that their names be included here. Those engaged in the project in 1975 were Miriam Beesing, Beth Berglund, Catherine Dietsche, Catherine Friedrich, Stuart Fritz, Beth Gilbertson, Peggy Haines, Joan McDonough, Kim McGregor, Mark Nippolt, Charles Nystrom, Janet Roemer, Marlene Swaggert, Penny Walrath, and Amy Wood. And those in 1976 were Janet Boche, Phillip Burnstine, Roger Bush, Paul Englund, Anthony Erickson, Jane Golden, Barbara Grteen, Nancy Johnson, Kim Klaus, Mary Klipsic, Debra Massof, Nancy Ostrom, Nona Schonhardt, David Stolpestad, and Darcy Welch. In addition to the three faculty leaders, accompanying the group each year was Professor Patricia Paterson, Department of Physical Education, who, together with George Vane in later years, spent several summers in England to add over eighty additional rubbings to the original collection. The gift of several hundred rubbings by David Henege, University of Wisconsin-Madison, filled in some areas that the Hamline groups were unable to reach.

The term “brass rubbing” is applied to a number of processes used to produce the engraved design of Monumental brasses. The process most often employed, and the one used by the Hamline groups, involves rubbing the flat, brass plate with a wax-like crayon or “heel ball” on high rag-content paper secured over the brass to the stone slab. Because the plate is very hard and smooth, and because the engraved lines are recessed, the rubbing of the wax causes friction only on the plane surface and consequently reveals the engraved lines as white against a black background. Each Hamline rubbing was polished with a soft cloth before the paper was removed from the stone slab and rolled for transporting. Once back in Minnesota, Cathy Dietsohe and Penny Walrath, two of the members of the 1975 group, designed the cataloguing system and during the year following catalogued all rubbings made during the two interims, thus laying the foundation for this study. Today, the rubbings are stored in specially built cabinets in the Hamline University Library where they are arranged according to size and according to county, town, and date of engraving.

Next, a Key to Entries

Hamline University is not seeking additional rubbings for its collection.