In the building boom following the Civil War, everyone wanted the expensive look of carved marble cornices and the detail of hand-carved plaster moldings. They just didn’t always want to pay the price that fine craftsmanship brought. The solution was pressed tin. It was cheap, permanent and fireproof. The only maintenance needed was an occasional coat of paint.
By the late 1800’s there were nearly two dozen factories stamping out architectural decorations of pressed tin.
William Franklin Norman had been selling tin ceilings for an eastern company when he decided to open his own factory. In 1892, W.F. Norman opened its doors in Nevada, Missouri. By 1909, their catalog featured seventy pages of “Hi-Art” designs. They use that same catalog today.
W.F. Norman factory in Nevada, MO
Presse d tin is made in much the same way as repousse where the metal is stamped from behind with hand-held hammers. At the turn of the century, W.F. Norman was making pressed tin using methods that had not changed significantly from the manufacture of suits of armor in 17th century France.
Two dies were made of each design. The “female” half was set in a cast iron bed and the “male” half was fastened to a cast iron hammer hung above the bed.
A stack of dies at W.F. Norman, Corp.
The press room at W. F. Norman. Operator in center is pulling rope to raise die for stamping. Three presses run daily.
A sheet of steel was placed over the die on the bed and the press operator released the hammer to drop onto the metal sheet. The force of the drop stamped the design into the metal sheet.
140 original gothic, empire, colonial and rococo designs produced cornices, ceilings, brackets, moldings, roofing, siding, finials and more.
Most of the downtown store fronts in mid-western towns feature Norman decorative details.
Those that have been well maintained are difficult to differentiate from carved stone, particularly decorative tin moldings on the tops of the stores. They produced several different stone patterns of siding that gave the expensive look of brick or dressed stone and a very inexpensive price.
By mid century, times and tastes had changed and W.F. Norman put away the old tin presses and began manufacturing metal temporary grave markers.
Then in 1979, Robert Quitno, looking for a factory that could be used to make the increasingly popular wood burning stoves, found W.F. Norman. He discovered the old presses, took notice of the restoration movement, and now, once again, W.F. Norman is producing pressed tin. Today, his children, Neal, Mark, Sue and Chris run the business. Tin is no longer used. Instead a metal similar to that used in coffee cans and zinc are most often used.
Source: Interview with Neal Quitno,