Saturday, December 12, 2015

Worn to Brass

A few weeks ago I was contacted, via my plumbing-geek web mail, by a new client in Texas who was restoring an 1850s cabin on a rural property there. He had been looking at lav taps on sites like Ebay to compliment the lavatory he was using. He told me that he was searching for a pair of taps that were "worn to brass". He had found a single tap that suited him but had not purchased it and wanted to know if I had a potential mate for it. He went on to say that if I had a pair in stock he would be interested in seeing them but that in any case, whether he provided or I did,  he wanted me to work up a pair of taps for his cabin. In the original contact email he included the URL of the web page where the one tap was being offered. I looked it over and proceeded to root through my stock of unfinished taps for something that might match what I had seen on the web page, or failing that a pair that might be suitable. The two problems with the tap on the internet were that I couldn't tell it's size from the photo and I didn't know if it would turn out to be serviceable.

As I sorted the contents of  boxes, selecting out singles and pairs tied together, looking at their surfaces with the term "worn to brass" in mind, the usual inner dialog was playing. I have never been a fan of the bare brass look. It reminds me of the early days of the restoration movement when people would strip old faucets of their nickle or chrome and install them in that raw state. From time to time someone would ask me to repair such a faucet or pair of taps and it always seemed so wrong to me, as a plumber with a mind set upon sanitation, to work on something that I just knew would get all green and funky. Those faucets were the very first vintage work I did though I didn't relish it at the time.

I laid out the result of my search and inspected what I could choose from. The term worn to brass was bugging me because it seemed so specific. I was looking at bare brass that had been tank stripped, wheel buffed, and maybe even sand blasted. A lot of my potential product had come in as a lot and I had been pulling the best of it out for work, not the most worn looking. Now, looking at these pieces my intuition was giving me red lights. I went back to the office and contacted my client to confirm and make sure I was reading him right.
I asked, "When you say "worn to brass" I assume you are looking for authentic aging and not stripped, sandblasted, or buffed down finishes".
I got back, "Thank you Brian and you are correct I basically want an unlacquered brass finish of an older unit. If it was an original brass finish then one with some patina. If it was nickel or chrome over brass then most of the nickel and chrome pitted or worn in places to show the brass beneath.
Thank you for your diligence".
The thing is, I was really becoming intrigued by this, and frustrated. Everything I looked at was off the mark. I understand patina but that usually concerns the remnant condition of a plated finish. For this project I was looking beyond patina to deep wear. 
Unable to find anything in storage I went to the shop where I keep a stock of  "product" to be put on the bench in times when there is a dearth of client work. These are select sets and the really raw stuff would likely go to the plater. Now I was thinking that might be a mistake and a good thing that I had found very little bench time that was not filled with client work. I selected three sets of taps and pulled each apart to confirm that they were yet serviceable. Once I was content that I could make each set function like new I started taking photos with my phone.
Interestingly enough, all three sets had the "Standard" stamping that showed they were made by American Standard yet each set was of a slightly different vintage.

First pair, nickel plating fairly intact under green oxidation.
"Standard" tap, independent packing nut.

RE-NU indicates replaceable seat and datestap to  mid-twenties and beyond.

Second pair, nickel worn off of high points and pitted with some green patina present.

 Pre RE-NU lav taps, more sculpted bonnet nut. 
Seats milled into the castings on early faucets.

Pre RE-NU, circa 1900 to 1925

The third pair turned out to be not a pair at all, one is "Standard" the other is what one would call "Other". There are slight differences in the shape but I am convinced that these taps were once mounted side by side.

At first glance they are a pair.
Add caption

These taps must have been immersed in with some iron.
Iron introduced by dripping water and years under something rusting away.
Note the immersion rings on the spout of this lav tap.