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Ottoman tombac ewer and basin set - 1870 - Collection of Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum - Brought to museum in 1926 from the tomb of Sultana Pertevniyal Tombac ewer.JPG
Ottoman tombac ewer and basin set – 1870 – Collection of Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum – Brought to museum in 1926 from the tomb of Sultana Pertevniyal

Tombac, as it is spelled in French, or tombak, is a brass alloy with high copper content and 5–20% zinc content. [1] Tin, lead or arsenic may be added for colouration. [2] [3] It is a cheap malleable alloy mainly used for medals, ornament, decoration and some munitions. In older use, the term may apply to brass alloy with a zinc content as high as 28–35%. [1] [4]



The term tombak is derived from tembaga, an Indonesian/Malay word of Javanese origin meaning copper.[ citation needed ]Tembaga entered Dutch usage concurrent with their colonisation of Indonesia. Likely, the term was used generically to describe Indonesian high-copper brass items, including gamelan gongs. It is one of the very few Indonesian loan words used in English or German.

Common types

Ure notes the following forms of tombak in widespread use during the time the text was published (1856): [5]

Piggot states the brass used for machinery and locomotives in England was composed of copper 74.5%, zinc 25%, and lead 0.5%- which would make it a tombac according to Ure. [6] Piggot's own definition of tombak is problematic at best: "red brass or tombak as it is called by some, has a great preponderance of copper, from 5 ounces of zinc down to 1/2 ounce of zinc to the pound [sic: copper?]" [6]


Typical tempers are soft annealed and rolled hard.


A "bronze" medal (actually tombac) from the 1980 Summer Olympics 1980 Summer Olympics bronze medal.JPG
A "bronze" medal (actually tombac) from the 1980 Summer Olympics

Tombac is easy and soft to work by hand: hand tools can easily punch, cut, enamel, repousse, engrave, gild, or etch it. It has a higher sheen than most brasses or copper, and does not easily tarnish. Historically, it was used by the Javanese as a faux gold finish for objects d'art and ornaments.

See also

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  1. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-09-03. Retrieved 2009-08-02.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. Institute of Metals, Journal of the Institute of Metals Volume 43, Institute of Metals: 1930
  4. Tibor Eric Robert Singer, German-English dictionary of metallurgy: with related material on ores, mining and minerals, crystallography, welding, metal-working, tools, metal products, and metal chemistry, McGraw-Hill: 1945: 298 pages
  5. Andrew Ure, A dictionary of arts, manufactures and mines: containing a clear exposition of their principles and practice Robert Hunt (ed.), D. Appleton & Co.: 1856: pp243
  6. 1 2 Aaron Snowden Piggot, The chemistry and metallurgy of copper, Lindsay and Blakiston: 1858: 388 pages: pp354, google book reference:
  7. Arméstabens taktiska avdelning februari 1962 : "Erfarenheterna från striderna i Kongo under september och december 1961"
  8. "Brass Sheet Metal Dealer on the Alloy's Use in Architectural Projects". Rotax Metals. 31 July 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2019.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)