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Inscription: The ABCs of adding names and dates to an existing headstone.

Inscription: The ABCs of adding names and dates to an existing headstone.

 A tradesman doing an inscription job on a slant marker. In metropolitan Philadelphia, expect headstone inscription work to take 90 days.  (Not many people do this sort of work.)

A tradesman doing an inscription job on a slant marker. In metropolitan Philadelphia, expect headstone inscription work to take 90 days. (Not many people do this sort of work.)

Inscription work on existing headstones usually does not happen quickly. In metropolitan Philadelphia, expect it to take a minimum of 90 days.

So if you want it done by Easter, or by Mother's Day, or Father's Day, or Christmas, or before a deceased's birthday passes... then you must plan far ahead.

Sometimes an accommodation can be made to speed up the work, but generally it takes a while to get these jobs completed.

To speed things up, be prepared to email a recent photo of the headstone to the memorial dealer. Without the photo, the memorial dealer will need to visit the cemetery to see the stone. This can delay your order by a week or longer.

The dealer will either photograph the stone or do a "rubbing."

A rubbing involves placing blueprint paper on the face of the stone and using a tennis ball to press the paper on to the stone in order to get a full-size impression of what is on the stone.

What's the purpose of this? The monument dealer needs to see the stone to be certain he/she knows what's involved before pricing-out the job.

Date styles are typically matched. Let's take a look at an example stone:

 Photo of a headstone showing the date style.

Photo of a headstone showing the date style.

On the SELLERS stone, the year of birth and date of passing are shown. With a stone like this, if somebody wanted to add a full date of passing... let's say March 5, 2016... and the inscriber was given an order to apply that date to a stone like this—it simply wouldn't fit, and even if it did fit, it wouldn't look right.

Inscription jobs can get very tricky. The memorial dealer needs to see if a panel needs to be extended down. (Panels are roughed-out areas of the stone. The term is "steeled" or "axed.") If so, this adds to the complexity and cost of the inscription.

Raised lettering costs more.

If a name and dates won't fit, then it is possible to do the inscription on the side of the stone. The dealer will need to see if the sides have a polished surface or if they are "rock pitch." ("Rock pitch" means rough and jagged, as you see on the SELLERS headstone above.)

If the inscriber needs to make a panel on a rock pitch side, it will cost more compared to if there was a polished surface.

If the type needs to be larger than 2 inches, this will probably add more to the cost too.

Beside having a recent photo of the headstone, the monument dealer will find it helpful if you have the section, range (or row) and lot number of the grave. 

The memorial dealer will also need to know the family name on the stone, and the names of the others on the stone. This extra information will lessen the chances of the wrong stone being inscribed, (which can happen).

Some cemeteries charge extra for an "inscription permit fee." The big catholic cemeteries in the Philadelphia area, like SS Peter & Paul Cemetery, and Holy Cross Cemetery, charge $95. They are among the highest in this region for inscription permit fees. (They require a 4 page form to be filled-out and notarized as well.)

While some cemeteries require these fees, others charge no fee at all.

As for cost, it can vary widely. 

This is not easy work. A lot is involved. And generally the risk/reward ratio is poor... because if a mistake is made, it can result in the memorial dealer being required to replace an entire stone.

 An inscription craftsman is preparing the stencil for a World War 1 monument. Next comes sandblasting.

An inscription craftsman is preparing the stencil for a World War 1 monument. Next comes sandblasting.

Typically, the total cost for the inscription work will need to be paid in advance. Before you pay your money, run some Google searches on whoever you are considering for this work. Check their reviews on Yelp.com and wherever else you can find this information. It might also be helpful to run a search for lawsuits against these companies using your county's civil records website.

It is less expensive to add living people to a stone now, rather than add deceased people to a stone in the field later.

The cost difference is fairly substantial. On the SELLERS' stone above, Lois was placed on the stone when it was manufactured at "the shed." All that is needed when she passes is her year of death—just 4 characters. This minimizes the inscription expense for her family members when she passes.

In comparison, if it freaked Lois out to add her name to the stone when she ordered it for Lionel, and if she chose to leave her information completely off the stone until she passed, the cost to inscribe 14½ characters in the field will certainly be higher than if 10½ characters were carved at the shed and the remaining 4 characters done at the cemetery.

And yes, inscription work is done at the cemetery. The stones are not removed and taken somewhere. 

Keep in mind the work can be delayed by weather, especially during winter.

This work is not easy. It takes a lot of tools, a lot of know-how, and there is zero room for error. It is an art-form. It is a real specialty. And like stone setting, it can be dangerous work.

Main points:

  1. Have a recent photo ready to email to the monument dealer to speed-up the quote process.

  2. Verify the good reputation of the business you are considering for this work.

  3. Get a timeline expectation from the monument dealer. "How long will this take?" Inscription work can take 3 months or longer, but get clarity on this before you pay for your inscription order.

Donors give $220,000 to vandalized Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.

Donors give $220,000 to vandalized Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.

Ordering a headstone through the internet could be a grave mistake.

Ordering a headstone through the internet could be a grave mistake.