Brass or Bronze?
Submitted by Bill Anderson, 1st Continental Artillery
As we prepare almost every issue [of The Artilleryman Magazine] the confusion of “brass” and “bronze” comes up in things written in an earlier time period when the terminology was incorrect, or by modern writers who don’t know the difference. We recently came across this in Harold L. Peterson’s Round Shot and Rammers (Bonanza Books, 1969):
“In almost all the contemporary [18th and early 19th centuries] references the term used is brass. Bronze is almost never mentioned. Yet the alloy itself sometimes consisted only of copper and tin, which would make it bronze according to a modern definition. Sometimes zinc was added to the copper and tin mixture, and sometimes the alloy used was actually copper, brass and tin.
“John Muller was perhaps the wisest of all when he avoided the issue entirely and referred to ‘gun metal’ instead of either brass or bronze, since it is impossible to know exactly the alloy used in any given instance, the terms brass and bronze will be used here as practically synonymous.”
The only brass guns were those made by the uninformed. All surviving antique cannon of a copper-based alloy are in fact “bronze.” The actual definition of “gun metal” was 90 percent copper and 10 percent tin, which was the strongest of the various bronze alloys.