MissPres Architectural Word of the Week: Quoins

Time for another MissPres AWOTW!  I gathered up a couple of definitions to help fully define our word this week.  Some of our examples photos come from the MDAH HRI database.

The Elements of Style by Stephen Calloway and Elizabeth Cromley definition fits our two examples, from Natchez and Oxford respectively, below.

Quoins: (koin, kwoin) the dressed (finished) stones at the corners of a building.

Audels Masons and Builders Guide #1 definition fits the majority of the examples I found on the MDAH HRI

Quoins: (koin, kwoin) Projecting courses of brick at the corners of buildings as ornamental features.

Respectively Mississippi has some great examples that are not made from stone or brick.  These three examples are made from wood, terracotta, and concrete.

Cyril M. Harris’s Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, defines as such:

Quoin, Coign, Coin (koin, kwoin) In Masonry, a hard stone or brick used, with similar ones, to reinforce an external corner or edge of a wall or the like; often extinguished decoratively from adjacent masonry; may be imitated, for decorative purposes, by wood that has been finished to look like masonry.

Some times quoins are all equal size like our examples such as the Old Post Office in Pontotoc or Glen Auburn in Natchez.  Although looking at the cross-section of our buildings, Mississippi prefer their Q to alternate in size.

The definition I found to be most descriptive while being succinct was from Lester Walker’s American Homes:

Quoin (koin, kwoin) A rectangle of stone, wood, or brick used in vertical series to decorate corners of buildings.

One interesting fact that I found in all the definitions is all they refer to Quoins as being on corners and Cyril Harris’s definition specifically states that the Quoins are for an external corner or edge.  I was not able to find any Quoins on inside corners.



Categories: Biloxi, Churches, Jackson, Natchez, Oxford, Pascagoula, Pontotoc, Post Offices, Starkville, Universities/Colleges, Winona

2 replies

  1. Quoins were originally a reinforcing element, and were used only on the outside corners of masonry construction.

    Many early masonry walls were composed of finished outside faces with rubble fill between. This resulted in a weak corner that tended to separate. The use of larger and more durable corner stones reinforced this weak element. The forces at play on interior corners were different, so quoins were not required at those junctures.

    Quoins should always alternate in size, the smaller dimension usually being set as the thickness of the masonry wall. The long dimension was a somewhat structural consideration, but probably mostly an aesthetic one. The quoins used today are decorative in nature, the structural function being replaced by full thickness masonry and steel reinforcement.

    Note that all the quoins shown in this post were placed there only for their decorative nature.


  2. Great photos and wonderful lesson! I never realized how decorative the front of Duling School is until seeing this photo. I know it is a fine piece of architecture but never really took it all in from afar. I’m thankful for all the wonderful things going on inside and out with its preservation. We truly do have some beautiful buildings in our state. Thanks for sharing these with us. :)


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