Copper chafing dish (ca 1895)
Copper chafing dish (ca 1895)

The working of copper began about 10,000 BC with the beating of small nuggets of copper, picked up from the ground, into use and decorative objects. Around 3,500 BC the process of producing copper from ores by smelting (initially in pottery kilns) was discovered and resulted in a great increase in the amount of copper available.

Copper is easy to hammer into shape but difficult to cast. As a result, it is most commonly used in sheet form with seamed joints where necessary. Because it is a excellent conductor of heat, the most common copper items were hearthware, such as kettles and wort pans (used for brewing).

Persian bronze ewer (7th century)
Persian bronze ewer (7th century)

The production of bronze, by mixing copper and tin, was established by the Etruscans about 1,500 BC.. Bronze is easier to work than copper and produces harder weapons and tools. It is easily cast and can withstand high temperatures.

Although, in ancient times, bronze was mainly used for weapons, bowls and cauldrons were also produced. In ancient Greece and Rome, it was also used in furniture, such as bed frames and lampstands. In China, bronze was used for bells, mirrors and a wide variety of vessels, as well as for weapons and tools.

When bronze became available for weapons and tools, copper was relegated to use for utensils such as cups and plates.

Bronze, in its turn, was replaced by iron for weapons and tools from about 1,000 BC. Bronze was then used for decorative pieces, such as statues and vases in ancient Greece and candlesticks and baptismal fonts for medieval churches. It continued to be used for cooking utensils, such as pots and skillets, until about 1750.

 
Brass dish (16th century)
Brass dish (16th century)

From about the 16th century in Europe and North Africa, brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, began to replace bronze for most decorative items. At first, calamine (zinc carbonate) powder was used to make brass. This is a costly process and it was not until the discovery of mineral zinc, late in the 18th century, that brass became cheaper than bronze which fell from favour. 

Typical items included large bronze dishes produced in Belgium and the Netherlands, chandeliers made in England and the Netherlands and plates and dishes decorated with silver and gold or copper from the Islamic countries.
 

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