What’s the Best Stone for a Headstone? 4 Material Types Explained

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When you’re shopping for headstones, you’ll notice that the same materials are offered through each of them. You may see granite, marble, bronze, limestone, sandstone, slate, or even iron. But which should you choose? What’s the difference?

Jump ahead to these sections:

If you really think about it, anything could be used as a grave marker. Over the years, just about any material has been used at some point. People have used fieldstones, pieces of wood, plates, lawn ornaments, metal sheets, cardboard, concrete blocks, hand-poured concrete, mosaics, and more.

Of course, these unique headstones are not often seen today unless you find them in small, old family cemeteries or happen upon one hidden away in a large cemetery.

So what are the best materials for a headstone? How much does a headstone cost? Is there one that stands out among the rest? Do I need to know how to clean a headstone? Read on, and we’ll figure it out.

What Should You Look for When Choosing Material for a Headstone?

There’s more to choosing a headstone than picking out the first one you like or the first one you like that’s got a cheap price tag. If you’re looking into how to find the best headstone, there are a few factors to consider, such as:

  • Material 
  • Quality
  • Carvability
  • Size 
  • Price
  • Seller 

Keep in mind that you need to check with the cemetery to make sure what you want fits within their regulations. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to change what type of memorial or headstone you buy, or you may want to consider another cemetery.

A cemetery’s regulations can be quite thorough and may cover such things as a memorial or monument’s: 

  • Material (granite, bronze, or other types)
  • Size
  • Style (upright, flush to the ground)
  • Headstone designs
  • Inscription (offensive language is a no-no)
  • Quality
  • Color
  • Maintenance fee (or are you responsible?)

For example, Historic Elmwood Cemetery, located in Detroit, Michigan has an extensive list of rules. They won’t even accept a grave marker for installation “unless a sketch has been furnished defining the dimensions, material content, and lettering.” 

Sizes and styles

There are many sizes and styles of grave markers for people to choose. Since listing each style in each size for each type of material would make everyone’s head spin, we’re giving you a sampling of what we’ve found. 

Gravemarker styles (in single or double/companion) include:

  • Flat/flush-to-the-ground (in granite, bronze, marble)
  • Bevel
  • Slant
  • Upright
  • Plaques
  • Statuary

A double/companion marker can cost anywhere between 40 percent to 60 percent more than a single one on average.

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Grave Marker Materials by Cost

While there are some headstone materials that are less expensive than others, it’s really a combination of things that add up to the price. 

For instance, you could buy a granite stone, which is usually a less expensive stone material choice. But if you want it to be a 5-foot-tall monument carved into an angel*, you’re going to be paying big bucks. You could purchase a small, flush-to-the-ground marble marker for far less.

Take these things into consideration as you make your selection: stone or metal material, size, detail, engraving (some places include it in the price, others charge extra).

*Curious about the cost of a granite angel monument? Cost Helper says Thompson Monuments offers a variety of them ranging from $4,000 to $6,000.

Inexpensive Headstone Material Types

When it comes to looking at the different kinds of materials used with gravemarkers, it can be difficult to figure out what is expensive or inexpensive. You have many exponential options when developing your own headstone and choosing the material can give you an easy cost base to jump off from.

Granite

Walk through a cemetery, and you see the most popular type of stone for at least half a century – granite. It’s one of the hardest stones (second only to diamond). It’s an igneous stone with a composition mostly of quartz, feldspar, and mica.

It comes in a variety of colors ranging from: Barre Gray, Ebony Mist Black, Mahogany, Missouri Red, Dominion Pink, Mountain Rose Pink, Blue Pearl, and Waussau. Keep in mind that not all colors may not be available everywhere. Some are rare however and may cost more.

It can also be an affordable choice for your headstone. The average cost of a flat, grass-level grave marker in granite can be anywhere between $250 to $700 for a single grave. 

Sellers like the company called The Headstone Guys can offer something like a single flat gray granite marker measuring 16 by 8 by 3 inches for as low as $179. If you go up in size for the same type of stone, the price jumps to $690.

For an upright granite stone (single, gray), the price for 14 x 20 x 4 in. is $894. Interested in red granite for a single of the same size? It will be $1,119. Materials in the end can be an extremely important choice.

Natural boulder

Possibly the least expensive grave marker is a natural boulder – provided you already own it. If you have a large stone on your property that you’d love to have as your gravestone, you may be able to use it. 

If you have your own stone, companies like McCall Monument in Newton, Iowa, will add an engraving on the rock for you. Others offer carving or the addition of a bronze plaque.

If you don’t have a stone of your own, that’s all right, too. There are monument companies that sell them. Some may use a rough-hew granite stone to get the look of a boulder, but others have actual boulders of different stone types.

Just don’t seek one out in, say, a state or national park or somebody else’s yard!

Before you make a decision to choose a natural boulder for your monument, you need to make sure the cemetery allows them. As noted earlier, there are many cemeteries who have strict regulations.

More Expensive Headstone Material Types

As mentioned above, choosing a headstone material can be an important choice and one that may need to be done first to keep a budget in check. 

Marble

White marble has black, gray, or blue veins of color going through it. It’s a much softer stone than granite, so it’s easier to carve and get great detail. 

Marble was the stone of choice in the United States from the 1850s into the 1920s. At that time, it wasn’t expensive. If you visit a Victorian-era cemetery, you will see it all over the grounds in the older sections.

Marble monuments and statuary can look like they have tiny crystals in them because marble “is a recrystallized form of limestone,” according to A Grave Interest. As it is a softer stone, that means it doesn’t age as well as granite. It also doesn’t do as well in places with lots of moisture.

A basic marble headstone can range between $1,500 to $1,800. 

During the Victorian era, it was popular to add an angel or other finely carved marble statuary to a grave. If you wanted to do something similar, the website Memorials offers a 12 inch tall “Blessed Angel” marble statue for just under $300. Prefer your angels lifesize? The “Angel & Wheat” stands a graceful 6 feet tall and costs $13,800. She is available in smaller sizes all the way down to 1 ft. at the cost of a mere $3,320.

Bronze

Technically, this isn’t a stone (obviously). But it’s a popular choice for grave markers, from flat and ground-level markers to statuary level ones. For flat, bronze grave markers, they are set on top of a base made of granite or sometimes concrete. The foundations are also concrete.

The cost for this style and material of headstone (basic design) can range from $300 to over $1,200. For a more detailed one, $1,200 to $2,200. For a “premium” one it could be between $2,200 to $8,000, according to Rome Monument.

And those are just for flat ones. A premium upright marker will bump the price range up a lot more. 

Time is on Your Side 

The good news regarding this important purchase for your or your loved one is that you don’t have to buy a grave marker right now. Even if a death has just occurred, you don’t have to rush into a decision.

There’s generally not a set timeline for when a grave marker needs to be set at the grave. In fact, your cemetery may tell you that a headstone isn’t able to be installed for a certain period of time, since the grave will take time to settle.

Time is on your side here. Shop around online, ask questions, and take notes. You’ll know when you’ve found the right one.

Want to learn more about headstones? Read our guides on where to buy a gravestone, pillow headstones, or slant headstones.


Sources 

  1. “The Stone Markers of the Cemetery.” A Grave Interest, 16 August 2013, agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-stone-markers-of-cemetery.html
  2. McCall Monument, https://www.mccallmonument.com/galleries/12 
  3. Price Sheet. The Headstone Guys, theheadstoneguys.com/PriceList.aspx 
  4. Flat Bronze Grave Marker and Headstone Designs.” Rome Monuments, 2002, www.romemonuments.com/price_ranges_for_memorials 

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