Some Gravestone Rubbings Do's and Don'ts
Gravestone rubbing is fun. It is possible to collect
some beautiful artwork that can be framed and displayed.
A carver's skill can be preserved, or an ancestor's
stone recorded and appreciated through this craft.
However, gravestone rubbing is also controversial.
Especially in cemeteries where a restoration project is
in progress, rubbing is often banned. This is to enable
the restorers to have an opportunity to preserve all the
stones possible before more damage occurs. Even if a
restoration project is not in progress, if the those who
care for the cemetery have determined there are very
fragile stones there which may be damaged if pressure is
applied to the surface as happens in rubbing, there may
be prohibitions in place. So be sure to check.
Below are some Do's and Don'ts that will make your
experience in the cemetery a good one.
Check (with cemetery superintendent, cemetery
commissioners, town clerk, historical society, whoever
is in charge) to see if rubbing is allowed in the
Get permission and/or a permit as required.
Rub only solid stones in good condition. Check for any
cracks, evidence of previous breaks and adhesive
repairs, defoliating stone with air pockets behind the
face of the stone that will collapse under pressure of
Become educated; learn how to rub responsibly.
Use a soft brush and plain water to do any necessary
Make certain that your paper covers the entire face of
the stone; secure with masking tape.
Use the correct combination of paper and waxes or inks;
avoid magic marker-type pens or other permanent color
Test paper and color before working on stone to be
certain that no color bleeds through.
Rub gently, carefully.
Leave the stone in better condition than you found it.
Take all trash with you; replace any grave site
materials that you may have disturbed.
Don't attempt to rub deteriorating marble or sandstone,
or any unsound or weakened stone (for example, a stone
that sounds hollow when gently tapped or a stone that is
flaking, splitting, blistered, cracked, or unstable on
Don't use detergents, soaps, vinegar, bleach, or any
other cleaning solutions on the stone, no matter how
Don't use shaving cream, chalk, graphite, dirt, or other
concoctions in an attempt to read worn inscriptions.
Using a large mirror to direct bright sunlight
diagonally across the face of a gravemarker casts
shadows in indentations and makes inscriptions more
Don't use stiff-bristled or wire brushes, putty knives,
nail files, or any metal object to clean or to remove
lichen from the stone; Soft natural bristled brushes,
whisk brooms, or wooden sticks are usually OK if used
gently and carefully
Don't attempt to remove stubborn lichen. Soft lichen may
be thoroughly soaked with plain water and then loosened
with a gum eraser or a wooden popsicle stick. Be gentle.
Stop if lichen does not come off easily.
Don't use spray adhesives, scotch tape, or duct tape.
Use masking tape.
Don't use any rubbing method that you have not actually
practiced under supervision.
Don't leave masking tape, wastepaper, colors, etc., at
the grave site