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Does That Bagel Have Sentimental Value? Get It Bronzed!

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A bronzed and mounted jockstrap becomes a sales award for an employee of a sports equipment company. (Courtesy of the Bronzery )

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This bronzed lobster tail commemorates the dinner over which its owner, who could not be reached for comment, became engaged to her boyfriend. (Courtesy of the Bronzery)

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Military boots are some of the most popular items that people send in to have bronzed. (Courtesy of the Bronzery)

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The students of USA Karate in Shoreline, Wash. had this karate belt, or obi, bronzed and mounted before presenting it to the founder and sensei of the school as a token of gratitude. (Courtesy of the Bronzery)

What do a lobster tail, a loaf of rock-hard bread and a piece of a man’s rib cage have in common? All have been coated in bronze and buffed to a high sheen, as mementos for an eclectic group of customers.

The Bronzery, one of two companies in the United States to provide such a service, still does most of its business in bronzed baby shoes, but some peculiar items have found their way into the company’s bronzing vat.

“We have two pieces of elephant dung in house right now,” said Annie Mitchell, president of the San Dimas, Calif., company. “I don’t know where she got them, but I know she’s going to use them as doorstops.”

The two pieces of dung, each approximately 8 inches wide and 6 inches tall, will cost the customer $150 apiece to bronze. Because the layer of metal coating them is only the width of three sheets of paper, they will weigh little more than they did before bronzing.

Mitchell has seen it all. “People will call in and say, ‘I have this really strange request,’ and we end up saying, ‘OK, well we’ve done that a dozen times,’ ” she said.

The Bronzery’s price list reflects that. A bronzed bagel is $98.95; a whiskey bottle, $142.95. A bronzed bra is $325.95, but restrictions apply because, unless the bra has formed cups, the final product won’t always reflect the shape of the wearer.

The lobster tail was sent in by a woman who jumped in surprise and sent it flying across the table when her boyfriend proposed to her over dinner. The loaf of bread will be returned to the owner of a new million-dollar bread-making machine, which produced a hilariously bad first loaf. And the rib is a memento for a man who underwent surgery to donate a kidney to his brother.

Rival firm American Bronzing, based in Columbus, Ohio, boasts of bronzing a hockey puck for Wayne Gretzky, Super Bowl helmets for the National Football League and one of Ronald McDonald’s big red shoes for the McDonald’s Corp.

Although many retailers offer bronzing services, all of those odd items wind up either at the Bronzery or at American Bronzing, apparently the only firms in the U.S. to provide the service. While “bronzing” is the commonly used term for the process, it’s really a misnomer. The items must first be coated in copper in order for bronze--or any other metal--to stick to them. The process, in which copper ions are induced to stick to an item that has been soaked in a special solution, has about 25 steps, said the Bronzery’s Mitchell.

Bronzing, or electroplating, developed the early 1900s, but Bob Keynes, owner of American Bronzing, says the practice of bronzing shoes originated with his grandmother, who bronzed the first baby shoes--his mother’s--in 1934.

Animal-related items--bones, wild-turkey legs, antlers and even elephant dung--tend to be mementos either of favorite pets or of successful hunting outings.

Then there are the human keepsakes. The parish of St. Simon the Apostle in Indianapolis raised $1,200 by auctioning off a bronzed pair of old tennis shoes belonging to its beloved priest, the Rev. Bob Sims, in a November fundraiser. Sims, known for his daily runs around the neighborhood, is moving to another parish.

One shoe was kept by the couple who won them, and the other was mounted on a plaque with an inscription reading, “Thanks for successfully RUNNING our parish.” The couple is supposed give the plaque to Sims. “I hope they gave it to him by now--otherwise he’s going to think I’m really weird,” said Rick Pfleger, the parishioner who persuaded Sims to hand over a pair of his old shoes and then sent them to the Bronzery.

Each year, the winner of the annual Fowler Founders Award receives a bronzed boot that once belonged to the founding member of the Keystone Athletic Field Managers Association. The award, which celebrates the winner’s dedication to the sports-turf industry, is kept by the winner for one year before being passed on to the next recipient.

“It’s really cool,” said Dan Douglas, president of KAFMA, who has never taken home the gleaming boot himself. “When the idea was presented, it was like, ‘Hey, we have to do that.’ ”

Bob Ekas, owner of Memories in Bronze in Florence, Ore., once took an order from a corporate customer for roughly 30 bronzed rubber ducks. He rarely asks “why?” anymore.

An ordinary jockstrap became the Bronze Jock Award, once the Bronzery bronzed it and mounted it on a plaque. The undergarment was bestowed to the winner of a sales contest at a sporting-goods company.

But some things are too difficult to bronze. Jack Minster, who owns Valley Forge Gifts in Valley Forge, Pa., refused the owner of several Dunkin’ Donuts franchises who wanted to give bronzed doughnuts to his employees.

Customers wishing to bronze doughnuts, onions or burritos are urged to find plastic stand-ins, which will look the same once they’re bronzed. Even if the item is preserved, there can be other issues.

“We had a guy send in a giant clove of garlic once--it must have been 6 inches tall,” Keynes said. “We plated it six times, and it still smelled.”

E-mail: ac2568@columbia.edu