JAIC 2003, Volume 42, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 21 to 38)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2003, Volume 42, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 21 to 38)




In the Western world, successful large-scale smelting of zinc began in the 18th century. Statues were first made of zinc in Berlin during the 1830s, promoted by the influential German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841). They were modeled by famous sculptors and placed in prestigious locations—the pediment of the Berlin Opera, for example, and throughout the gardens and royal palace of Sans Souci at Potsdam—and they proliferated in Central European cities, especially Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Vienna, and Budapest (Vösgen 1997; Kobler 1999; Hierath 2000). Following the revolution of 1848, a few German sculptors immigrated to the United States, where they played critical roles in early zinc production. One such immigrant, Moritz J. Seelig (1809–ca. 1889), produced the first recorded zinc castings in America for the Castle Garden Fair in New York in 1852 (Stiles 1884). Among the earliest extant statues is a zinc Benjamin Franklin (1858) purchased with a bronze finish for a niche on the Franklin Lyceum in Providence, Rhode Island (Danielson 1858). A cast-iron fountain decorated with zinc statues was installed in Savannah, Georgia, that same year. Trade catalogs featuring zinc statues appeared after the Civil War (Fiske ca. 1868–69), becoming longer and more lavish publications in the 1870s (Mott 1873; Fiske 1874; Seelig 1876). In 1876 the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia provided a showcase for zinc, and displays of zinc statuary by the J. L. Mott Iron Works and Wm. Demuth & Co. received commendations (Sandhurst et al. 1879; Walker 1880). Cast-zinc architectural sculptures also appeared on exhibition buildings, including seven colossal personifications and 16 huge eagles atop Memorial Hall (Sellin 1974). A large Gambrinus, the king who purportedly first brewed beer, stood over the entrance to Brewers Hall (Harris 2000). Stamped sheet-zinc eagles appeared on a Sheet-metal Pavilion (Sheet-metal Builder 1876).

Initially, many zinc statues in the United States were copies of antique and other well-known European statues. American subjects soon dominated the market, however, including cigar store–type Indians, a Boy with a Leaking Boot, firemen, and Civil War soldiers. At least 100 Union and 25 Confederate soldiers made of zinc have survived. Unlike bronze soldiers, whose price tags could exceed $10,000, soldiers of zinc could be purchased for as little as $150 (Mott 1890). Most were placed in front of county courthouses in the Midwest, on the public commons of New England villages, or in small-town cemeteries as far west as Carson City, Nevada, or Redwood City, California. Their distribution has had ramifications for the present day, as conservation expertise may not be readily available in the smaller communities where zinc soldiers are located.

Only 12 soldiers of zinc memorializing later wars have been located, as the use of zinc for statuary declined after 1900, in tandem with the decrease in popularity of public monuments in general. Still, the founder of Hershey's Chocolate, Milton Hershey, purchased a “bronzed” Rough Rider for $245 (Mott 1913), an inexpensive version of a popular bronze Spanish-American War Soldier (1904) by Allen George Newman (1875–1940). World War I soldiers made of zinc include three copies of a handsome Doughboy sold by the J. W. Fiske Iron Works. They appeared on memorials within a dozen miles of each other in northern New Jersey (Wanaque and Riverdale) and southern New York (Suffern) during the 1920s. The last known installation of a zinc soldier was a copy of E. M. Viquesney's (1876–1946) Spirit of the American Doughboy dedicated in 1944 in Verona, Pennsylvania. Its form is similar but not identical to more than 100 stamped sheet-copper statues manufactured by Chicago's Friedley-Voshardt Company (Friedley-Voshardt 1925).

Knowledge of fabrication always underlies sound conservation treatment. Since there is so little published material about the manufacture of zinc soldiers, this article provides considerable detail. Information about the entire body of zinc soldiers, gleaned in the process of compiling a catalog of zinc sculpture in America (Grissom forthcoming), shows that most are replicas of a few models. Their sculptors have not been identified to date, but a few names can be put forward here, including that of the Bohemian-born immigrant sculptor Caspar Buberl (1834–1899). In marked contrast to their German contemporaries, major American-born sculptors shunned zinc in favor of bronze or marble (Ward 1874). Further data about many individual sculptures mentioned in the text may be found at the invaluable website of the Smithsonian's Inventory of American Sculpture (www.siris.si.edu).

Copyright © 2003 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works