How to do a Rubbing

​​​​​​​​Brass rubbing was originally a largely British enthusiasm for reproducing onto paper monumental brasses – commemorative brass plaques found in churches, usually originally on the floor, from between the 13th and 16th centuries. The concept of recording textures of things is more generally called making a rubbing. What distinguishes rubbings from frottage is that rubbings are meant to reproduce the form of something being transferred, whereas frottage just desires to use rubbing to grab a random texture.

Brass rubbings are created by laying a sheet of paper on top of a brass (actually called "latten" - an alloy of brass and nickel) and rubbing the paper with graphite, wax, or chalk, a process similar to rubbing a pencil over a piece of paper placed on top of a coin. In the "old days" rubbings were most commonly made using the equivalent of what we would call "butcher's paper" [a 22–30-inch-wide (560–760 mm) roll of whitish paper] laid down over the brass and rubbed with "heelball", a waxy glob of black crayon once used to shine shoes.

Nowadays most brass rubbers purchase special paper rolls of heavy duty black velvety material, and the crayons are silver or gold (and other colours). Sometime after the early 1970s the authorities[specify] decided that you could no longer rub the original brasses since they were being worn away by the rubbing process, and the lack of care on the part of some individuals. Brass rubbing centres had already appeared around the U.K. and now they became the prime source for rubbings. It is important to note that one now rubs a replica brass, not the original. Replicas are often not the same scale as the original so a prospective buyer of a rubbing should investigate to see whether a rubbing is of an original or a replica. Miniature versions of brasses are also being offered for sale without specifying that they are not created to the original scale.

Gravestone rubbing also applies this technique to gravestones, often as a method of retrieving and conserving information about genealogy. For a genealogist, a gravestone rubbing may become a permanent record of death when a gravestone is rapidly deteriorating.

Rubbings are commonly made by visitors to the US Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[4] Visitors use pencil and paper to copy the name of a family member or friend who died during the Vietnam war off of the wall. The rubbing forms a type of souvenir.

Gravestone rubbing can be used to teach about local history. The stone’s condition, art, and inscription can tell what was going on in an area at a specific time. Studying multiple gravestones in one specific area can give even more information about history.


Please Do

Check (with cemetery superintendent, cemetery commissioners, town clerk, historical society, whoever is in charge) to see if rubbing is allowed in the cemetery.
Get permission and/or a permit as required.
Rub only solid stones in good condition. Check for any cracks, evidence of previous breaks and adhesive repairs, defoliating stone with air pockets behind the face of the stone that will collapse under pressure of rubbing, etc
Become educated; learn how to rub responsibly.
Use a soft brush and plain water to do any necessary stone cleaning.
Make certain that your paper covers the entire face of the stone; secure with masking tape.
Use the correct combination of paper and waxes or inks; avoid magic marker-type pens or other permanent color materials.
Test paper and color before working on stone to be certain that no color bleeds through.
Rub gently, carefully.
Leave the stone in better condition than you found it.
Take all trash with you; replace any grave site materials that you may have disturbed.

Please Don't

Don't attempt to rub deteriorating marble or sandstone, or any unsound or weakened stone (for example, a stone that sounds hollow when gently tapped or a stone that is flaking, splitting, blistered, cracked, or unstable on its base).
Don't use detergents, soaps, vinegar, bleach, or any other cleaning solutions on the stone, no matter how mild!
Don't use shaving cream, chalk, graphite, dirt, or other concoctions in an attempt to read worn inscriptions. Using a large mirror to direct bright sunlight diagonally across the face of a grave marker casts shadows in indentations and makes inscriptions more visible.
Don't use stiff-bristled or wire brushes, putty knives, nail files, or any metal object to clean or to remove lichen from the stone; Soft natural bristled brushes, whisk brooms, or wooden sticks are usually OK if used gently and carefully
Don't attempt to remove stubborn lichen. Soft lichen may be thoroughly soaked with plain water and then loosened with a gum eraser or a wooden popsicle stick. Be gentle. Stop if lichen does not come off easily.
Don't use spray adhesives, scotch tape, or duct tape. Use masking tape.
Don't use any rubbing method that you have not actually practiced under supervision.
Don't leave masking tape, wastepaper, colors, etc., at the grave siteBrass rubbing was originally a largely British enthusiasm for reproducing onto paper monumental brasses – commemorative brass plaques found in churches, usually originally on the floor, from between the 13th and 16th centuries. The concept of recording textures of things is more generally called making a rubbing. What distinguishes rubbings from frottage is that rubbings are meant to reproduce the form of something being transferred, whereas frottage just desires to use rubbing to grab a random texture.