California brick

Selby Smelting and Lead Company, Tormey


Selby Smelting Works, Selby
View of the Selby Smelting and Lead Company, Tormey, CA. From Rickard, 1908.

The smelting plant of the Selby Smelting and Lead Company at Tormey in Contra Costa County was established by Thomas Selby in 1884. This plant smelted the lead and silver ores from mines throughout the western United States. The company was known to press slime and siliceous material into bricks so that the lead and silver slime could be put into the blast furnace for smelting.

Refractory bricks were used in the smelting furnaces. It is known that some of the bricks were obtained from the Steiger Pottery in South San Francisco. Around 1908, Selby obtained a Boyd brick press and began manufacturing its own cupola firebricks. A photograph in the archives of the Contra Costa County Historical Society shows four men posing by the Boyd press that made the cupola brick. Next to the brick press is a pallet holding 48 cupola firebricks. The Boyd press made two bricks at a time. The bricks were stamped with the name SELBY on the face of each brick. William Donnelly found one of these bricks near the site of the Selby plant and has kindly provided a photograph of the brick shown below.

It is not known how long the company was making its own bricks. The Selby plant operated until 1970 and it was demolished afterwards. The site has been redeveloped for use by an oil company.

Selby Smelting Works, Selby
View of the interior plant of the Selby Smelting and Lead Company, Tormey, CA. From Rickard, 1908.

Selby Brick

Selby firebrick is grayish in color. The form is excellent with straight sharp edges and sharp corners, if not broken or worn. The surface has a smooth granular texture of pressed brick. On the marked face is the name SELBY in recessed block letters inside a shallow tight rectangular name plate. The interior consists of about 15 percent white quartz and brown iron oxides in a coarse granular clay body. This brick was made using the dry-pressed method. No dimensions are available.

Marked face of the Selby firebrick
Photo courtesy of William Donnelly


Contra Costa County Historical Society, Making cupola bricks; group of four men, photo 1815.

Donnelly, William, written communication, 2008.

Rickard, T.A., From Mine to Battleship, Mining and Scientific Press, May 9, 1908.

Tormey, Michael, The Rise and Fall of Tormey Town, web site: [accessed May 7, 2006].

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