A Brief History of Brass

Every month, the iScrap App will feature a Metal of the Month. We will explore the various metals or materials based on their history and how to find, recycle, and make the most money on them. This month, we explore Brass’s origin and where to find its scrap.

What Is Brass?Brass Valves

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc that typically has a yellow color but can vary from a dark reddish-brown to a light silvery-yellow. The varying proportions of zinc to copper are why we have various types of brass (yellow, red, etc.) with different properties. Can you believe there are actually over 60 types of brass?! The alloy is stronger and harder than copper but not as strong as steel. It is also known for its hardness and workability. Like copper, it is a good conductor of heat and is generally resistant to corrosion from saltwater. 

Fun Fact: Brass has sometimes historically been called ‘yellow copper.’

Quick History

The earliest brass was called calamine brass, dating back to Neolithic times; for those who don’t know what or when Neolithic times were because we didn’t either, it was the final stage of cultural evolution and technological development among prehistoric humans, highly debated but sometime around 10,000 BCE. That was a long, long time ago. So, let’s lay it all out for you.

  • 10,000 BCE: Neolithic times and the first evidence of brass.
  • 3,000 BCE: Ancient metalworkers in the area now known as Syria or eastern Turkey would combine copper and tin to make bronze but sometimes brass without even knowing it.
  • 20 BC – 20 AD: Metalworkers around the Mediterranean Sea distinguished zinc ores from those containing tin and began blending zinc with copper to make brass coins.
  • 300 AD: The Brass metalworking industry flourished in what is now Germany and the Netherlands.
  • 1746: A German scientist named Andreas Sigismund Marggraf identified zinc and determined its properties.
  • 1781: Combining metallic copper and zinc to make brass was patented in England.
  • 1852: the first metal cartridge casings for firearms were introduced.

Where Does Brass Come From?

We already know brass is made of copper and zinc; both metals are mined, melted, and combined into brass. However, a few different manufacturing processes are used when creating brass items because the desired shape and properties determine how it is made. You have…

  • Melting 
  • Hot Rolling
  • Annealing & Cold Rolling
  • Finish Rolling 

We won’t go into what happens in each process; that part doesn’t matter much to scrappers, but knowing where to find brass scrap is.

Where Can I Find Brass Scrap?

Brass is exceptionally recyclable, let alone the sheer variety of brass items available today. Let’s list off a bunch:

  • Ammunition components
  • Builder’s hardware
  • Plumbing goods 
  • Tubing
  • Faucet handles
  • Sprinkler heads
  • Window and door fittings
  • Fixtures
  • Musical instruments
  • Vehicle radiators 
  • Handles and railings
  • Marine Hardware
  • Technical instruments
  • Statues

This list is not all-encompassing but is an excellent way to show how widely used brass is in many applications. In conclusion, BRASS CAN BE FOUND ANYWHERE.

Tips For Making The Most Money With Brass Scrap

The #1 rule (and this goes for most, if not all, scrap metal): Separate! 🗣 Separate your red brass from your yellow and the clean from your unclean. Red brass has a higher copper content than yellow brass, meaning its value is higher. So the question stands: why would you want to group them all together?! Next, separate the brass fittings soldered on copper and make more money with both metals! Also, feel free to ‘clean’ dirty brass and improve its grade (cha-ching 💸). 

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