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Cemetery Monuments - Are They Still Made to Last?
By Roy Dixon

The days of craftsmanship and pride in one's work seem to have passed into history. There was a time, not so long ago, when quality came first. You could buy a piece of furniture and see, prominently displayed under a tabletop or inside a drawer, the label of the manufacturer. Many times, the craftsman would personally sign the piece. Quality leads to pride in ones work. Remove the quality, and the pride goes with it. Look under the table or inside the drawer of a piece of modern, pressed wood furniture and what do you see? A little white "stick on" label that says "Made in China" or "inspected by #6".

Sure, you can still find quality work, but you have to look for it. You can't simply trust that it will last, like you could in the "old days". When we do find something that appears to be high quality, is it really? Or is it simply better in comparison to the "standard" product. We, as consumers, are ultimately responsible for the standards of quality in any product. If we insist the bar be raised, then eventually it will.

The manufacturing of cemetery monuments has followed the same path of decline. We automatically assume that a headstone will last forever. It is a natural assumption, but a false one. It is common practice for a monument company to use spray paint to make the lettering and carving show up on a piece of granite that has little or no natural contrast. This is usually a light gray stone. The process is simple, paint the lettering black and the background white. The effect is striking. A vivid black letter standing out against a white or light gray background for all the world to see. Happily, the customer pays for the stone. Now, however, we have a serious problem. As time passes, the paint comes off. The paint ALWAYS comes off. It may take 10 years or it may take only 3, but in a short period of time the customer is left with something quite less than what was paid for.

Granite is porous. Water seeps into the stone on a microscopic level. This water will enter the granite at any convenient place, beading up on the painted areas and rolling down to the natural stone to be absorbed. When the water comes back out of the headstone, however, it comes STRAIGHT out, blistering the paint off from the inside. This process is natural and unstoppable. The result is a light gray stone with light gray lettering against a light gray background. Unreadable lettering and indiscernible carving. We are left with an embarrassing tribute to someone who deserved better. During the process the paint will turn to powder. If the powder is black the stone will look very dirty, as if covered with coal dust. This powder sits in the lowest areas of the lettering and carving. When it rains this black dust runs down the surface of the stone in streaks. If the problem is brought to the attention to the monument company they may offer to re-paint the headstone. Many times there is a charge to do so.

By the way, if you want to see if a cemetery monument has been painted, go to the cemetery when it is raining. If a stone is made the right way it will be difficult to read when wet. A painted stone is easily read in the rain, as the water beads up on the painted surface.

So, why does this happen? The reason is 2 fold. First, the market has driven the standard of quality down to the point of incompetence. When price alone becomes the determining factor in regard to the products we buy, we should be prepared to accept the consequences. Is it the monument companies' fault? Not necessarily... everyone wants to stay in business. Is it the consumers' fault? There's the rub. It is the fault of the consumer as a whole. We as a people have driven the quality standards down. It is not, however the fault of the consumer as an individual. We have come to expect a certain price for a certain product. If we were to go to a monument company that does everything the correct way, we pay more. Sometimes we pay much more. The customer may think that company B is way over priced and returns to company A, unwittingly perpetuating the problem.

The second reason that this problem exists is the lack of actual knowledge on the part of the monument company. There are still many good monument builders out there. A good company knows the problem areas and tries to avoid them, or at least informs the customer of the situation. A poor company either doesn't know, or doesn't care. How can you be excellent in your field if you are unaware of the potential problems? Perhaps the company just wants to be sure to get a sale and automatically gives the lowest price, forcing them to take shortcuts. It may be that the manufacturer doesn't know, and assumes that's the way it's done. It is, after all, the standard manufacturing process.

Whatever the reason, the results are the same. Thousands of people every year paying for something they did not receive, accepting mediocrity as the standard and perpetuating the decline of the American manufacturing process.


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