We’ve often wondered about that phrase.

“Let’s get down to brass tacks.”

There are some who say that it refers to the tacks nailed into the counter in a merchant’s shop. If you were buying something that was sold by the foot or yard, instead of pulling out the old tape measure, the merchant would lay it across the counter to see how many tacks you were buying. Others say it comes from the custom of nailing a tack into your gun stock to mark your prowess as a rifleman. Brass is easy to polish, so anyone looking could tell that you were a sure shot.

Whatever the roots of the saying, mankind has long had an affinity for brass.

Brass is considered one of the “red metals” due to its distinctive reddish hue. This puts it in the same family as bronze and copper. Early brass was likely an accidental byproduct of early smelting efforts and it wasn’t until the early Roman age that people began trying to make it on purpose. Unlike an ore-based metal, brass comes from a combining of copper and zinc. Due to its durability and resistance to corrosion, it became popular for things like locks and hinges. It readily takes on a high sheen that resembles gold, so it became a popular metal for decorative objects, like urns, masks, and the ornamentation of armor.

While it is durable, it’s also very malleable, so can be molded and hammered into intricate shapes. Think about the curves and convolutions of a trombone: Here’s an instrument that will resist sweat, saliva and fingerprints, and you can polish it into a gleaming luster.

We often get questions about our prices for brass, and why one object may be worth more than another. It comes down to what it was used for. While there is no real material that one could call “pure brass,” the intended use will determine what was combined to make the brass. For fixtures on boats, brass will contain 40% copper and only 1% tin. Gunmetal brass, used for things like gears and plumbing valves, is almost 90% copper and around 8% tin. Add some more zinc, and you get an alloy that produces that shine that’s desirable in jewelry and musical instruments.

Do you have some old plumbing fixtures or decorative objects lying around? Bring them to us! We can’t hammer them into gold, but we can turn them into cash!