[Ads-l] Antedating "Brass Tacks" in the sense of "common-sense" - 1862

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue May 10 20:58:32 UTC 2022

Pardon me if this rehashes something already discussed here.

I don’t recall the most recent state of “brass tacks” here – and the search function only retrieves comments from pre-2010 on this issue, although I am sure there have been a few discussions over the past ten years or so.

I recall Fred Shapiro’s find from the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph of January 21, 1863 as the earliest example of “come down to brass tacks.”

I recently saw an earlier example of “Brass Tacks,” used to mean “common sense,” from the same newspaper about one year earlier.

Tri-Weekly Telegraph (Houston, Texas), May 30, 1862, page 4<https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth236385/m1/4/zoom/?q=%22to%20brass%20tacks%22&resolution=2&lat=5720.155649703402&lon=4225.209682033061>.
[Begin excerpt]
This to my mind, is a “Brass Tacks” common-sense view of the question, and if I were in authority, it would puzzle the brain of the wisest lawyer to drive me from this position.
[End Excerpt]

I once posted about an early essay about “down to brass tacks” (1868), in which the decorative brass tacks on coffins were used in a metaphor to think about the things that are really important and basic in life.

I found another early example of literal “brass tacks” related to coffins, in a Texas newspaper, apparently reprinted from a Galveston newspaper.

It is an addendum to an item credited to the New York Day Book, one of those “meanest man” stories, in which the newspaper compares mean people who refuse to pay their subscriptions to people who would “commit highway robbery upon a crying baby and rob it of its ginger bread” and other terrible acts.

The Galveston News apparently added some of their own horrible things such an evil person would do, including digging up their dead mother and stealing the brass tacks from her coffin.  It doesn’t prove anything, but it is at least consistent with the other brass coffin tack commentary.

The Northern Standard (Clarksville, Texas), August 9, 1851, page 4<https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth80840/m1/4/zoom/?q=%22to%20brass%20tacks%22&resolution=2&lat=890.1155991072283&lon=1970.5000000000014>.
[Begin Excerpt]
Ay, verily! He would steal a sick man’s physic; filch the tobacco out of his blind father’s pipe; or crawl on his hands and knees, ten miles, at the dead of night and through a thick set thorn hedge, to a country burying ground in order to disinter the putrid remains of his dead mother, and steal the brass tacks out of her coffin. – Gal. News.
[End excerpt]

A few other early references to literal “brass tacks” refer to hardware on saddles.

My earlier Brass Tacks posts:


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