1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bronze

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BRONZE, an alloy formed wholly or chiefly of copper and tin in variable proportions. The word has been etymologically connected with the same root as appears in “brown,” but according to M. P. E. Berthelot (La Chimie au moyen âge) it is a place-name derived from aes Brundusianum (cf. Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxiii. ch. ix. §45, “specula optima apud majores fuerunt Brundusiana, stanno et aere mixtis”). A Greek MS. of about the 11th century in the library of St Mark’s, Venice, contains the form βροντήσιον, and gives the composition of the alloy as 1 ℔ of copper with 2 oz. of tin. The product obtained by adding tin to copper is more fusible than copper and thus better suited for casting; it is also harder and less malleable. A soft bronze or gun-metal is formed with 16 parts of copper to 1 of tin, and a harder gun-metal, such as was used for bronze ordnance, when the proportion of tin is about doubled. The steel bronze of Colonel Franz Uchatius (1811–1881) consisted of copper alloyed with 8% of tin, the tenacity and hardness being increased by cold-rolling. Bronze containing about 7 parts of copper to 1 of tin is hard, brittle and sonorous, and can be tempered to take a fine edge. Bell-metal varies considerably in composition, from about 3 to 5 parts of copper to 1 of tin. In speculum metal there are 2 to 21/2 parts of copper to 1 of tin. Statuary bronze may contain from 80 to 90% of copper, the residue being tin, or tin with zinc and lead in various proportions. The bronze used for the British and French copper coinage consists of 95% copper, 4% tin and 1% zinc. Many copper-tin alloys employed for machinery-bearings contain a small proportion of zinc, which gives increased hardness. “Anti-friction metals,” also used in bearings, are copper-tin alloys in which the amount of copper is small and there is antimony in addition. Of this class an example is “Babbitt’s metal,” invented by Isaac Babbitt (1799–1862); it originally consisted of 24 parts of tin, 8 parts of antimony and 4 parts of copper, but in later compositions for the same purpose the proportion of tin is often considerably higher. Bronze is improved in quality and strength when fluxed with phosphorus. Alloys prepared in this way, and known as phosphor bronze, may contain only about 1% of phosphorus in the ingot, reduced to a mere trace after casting, but their value is nevertheless enhanced for purposes in which a hard strong metal is required, as for pump plungers, valves, the bushes of bearings, &c. Bronze again is improved by the presence of manganese in small quantity, and various grades of manganese bronze, in some of which there is little or no tin but a considerable percentage of zinc, are extensively used in mechanical engineering. Alloys of copper with aluminium, though often nearly or completely destitute of tin, are known as aluminium bronze, and are valuable for their strength and the resistance they offer to corrosion. By the addition of a small quantity of silicon the tensile strength of copper is much increased; a sample of such silicon bronze, used for telegraph wires, on analysis was found to consist of 99.94% of copper, 0.03% of tin, and traces of iron and silicon.

The bronze (Gr. χαλκός, Lat. aes) of classical antiquity consisted chiefly of copper, alloyed with one or more of the metals, zinc, tin, lead and silver, in proportions that varied as times changed, or according to the purposes for which the alloy was required. Among bronze remains the copper is found to vary from 67 to 95%. From the analysis of coins it appears that for their bronze coins the Greeks adhered to an alloy of copper and tin till 400 B.C., after which time they used also lead with increasing frequency. Silver is rare in their bronze coins. The Romans also used lead as an alloy in their bronze coins, but gradually reduced the quantity, and under Caligula, Nero, Vespasian and Domitian, coined pure copper coins; afterwards they reverted to the mixture of lead. So far the words χαλκός and aes may be translated as bronze. Originally, no doubt, χαλκός was the name for pure copper. It is so employed by Homer, who calls it ἐρυθρός (red), αἴθυψ (glittering), φαεννός (shining), terms which apply only to copper. But instead of its following from this that the process of alloying copper with other metals was not practised in the time of the poet, or was unknown to him, the contrary would seem to be the case from the passage (Iliad xviii. 474) where he describes Hephaestus as throwing into his furnace copper, tin, silver and gold to make the shield of Achilles, so that it is not always possible to know whether when he uses the word χαλκός he means copper pure or alloyed. Still more difficult is it to make this distinction when we read of the mythical Dactyls of Ida in Crete or the Telchines or Cyclopes being acquainted with the smelting of χαλκός. It is not, however, likely that later Greek writers, who knew bronze in its true sense, and called it χαλκός, would have employed this word without qualification for objects which they had seen unless they had meant it to be taken as bronze. When Pausanias (iii. 17. 6) speaks of a statue, one of the oldest figures he had seen of this material, made of separate pieces fastened together with nails, we understand him to mean literally bronze, the more readily since there exist very early figures and utensils of bronze so made.

For the use of bronze in art, see Metal-work.