One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure: The Transition of Clinker Brick from Disposable to Decorative

Historic Preservation Thesis

Alafia Akhtar

Norman R. Weiss, advisor

The exact origin of the name clinker brick is unknown, however it is said that the name may have been derived from the “quality imparted by vitrification, which causes them to give a clinking sound when struck.” In England, the 1836 Penny Cyclopedia described clinkers (also known as burrs) as “black-looking masses of vitrified brick…” The historian, Charles Thomas Davis described them as “ruptured” and by 1912 the closest definition to its current form, was given by Geologist Heinrich Ries who called the brick “roughened, discolored, and distorted.”

Though the brick embodied the ideologies of the Arts and Crafts and Tudor Revival visually, philosophically their use was contradictory. The two styles emphasized unaltered natural materials however, as clinker brick rose in popularity they became a mass produced commodity, heavily monitored to achieve a perfect distortion. This eliminated its natural ability to mirror the textures of nature, but instead it was forcefully used to stage such an aesthetic. Additionally, the Arts and Crafts movement sought after making crafts affordable to the average person. However, because of clinker brick’s popularity and time consuming production process, its price rose significantly higher than the average common brick. Despite the philosophical irony in the use of clinker brick, by the early twentieth century, the material was highly popular and produced by various brick manufacturing companies throughout the country.