What’s The Rub?

Sir Robert 1

Between the 13th and the 16th century, in churches all over England, beautiful brass plaques were laid into the floors.  These incredibly intricate and detailed images depicted notable men and women from the area and also family trees and historical information.  And up until the early 1990’s people (mostly passionate historically focussed Brits) would visit these churches with huge rolls of butchers paper and something called ‘heelball’ and create what are known as brass rubbings.

By laying the paper on the floor over the images and rubbing the heelball (which is like a waxy black crayon that was most often used to clean shoes) gently over the image, they would transfer the image to paper and then apply that paper to a backing board and frame it.  More recently, well, actually the late 70’s and 80’s when everything went a bit disco, the trend was to use black paper and silver and gold crayons, but those rubbings have never really appealed to me.  To blingy.

I have always been aware of brass rubbings as they hung on the walls of our house as children as my mother had lived in the UK for five years in the 60’s and had jumped on the bandwagon and had traipsed to cold dark churches and knelt on the freezing floor to get her pieces.  I love them for three reasons.  First, I love black and white.  Second, the detail and design in these images is just insane.  And what makes them more insane is it would take an extreme talent to make these today with all the technology we have available and to think that these were made as far back as the 13th century, by hand and in brass!  The skill is just fascinating.  And finally, the third reason, they are big.

Big art is hard to find and while there is an influx of big, mass produced modern art through online sites, these rubbings are big pieces that have huge impact and you won’t find them everywhere, they are really unique.  And they are not just for people with a medieval bent.  You don’t need a suit of armour by the door or a lions head rug to make these work.  With their monochromatic colour scheme and simple framing they work in any space.

They tend to pop up occasionally in auctions and online, but I have only seen two that were worth the bidding and then the logistics of getting them back and both are available for sale today through the website.  Make sure you check your measurements as both are extremely large.

Oh, and you won’t see any new ones of these popping up.  In the early 90’s the practice of taking brass rubbings was almost exclusively banned as their popularity meant that too much wear was being made to the plaques.

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