Posted by ESC on October 11, 2000
In Reply to: Brass posted by Michael on October 11, 2000
: Looking for the origin of "Down to brass tacks"
"BRASS TACKS -- There are no brass tacks, only brass-headed ones, used because they rust less easily. The American expression, which has been traced back only to 1903, though it may have been common before then, has several possible origins. Brass-headed tacks were used in upholstering chairs, especially at the foundations of the chairs, and in taking a chair apart to reupholster it from the bottom up, craftsmen might have said they were getting down to business, to the root of the matter, getting down to the brass tacks. There is no solid evidence for this theory, however, just as there is none for the country-store hypothesis. Merchants in country stores, it's said, hammered brass-headed tacks at intervals into their fabric department counters to indicate lengths of a yard, a half-yard and a quarter-yard. After a customer selected the cloth she wanted, the merchant would say, 'All right, now we'll get down to brass tacks - I'll measure it up for you.' This certainly was a practice in the country stores and a common one at about the same time the expression is first recorded." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).
See also: the meaning and origin of 'Get down to brass tacks'.