The purpose of a ferrule to twofold: provide a means of attachment between the hair and the handle and protect the glue or epoxy that holds the hair in from deteriorating after repeated cleanings.The oldest type of ferrule isn't really a ferrule. The hair is tied to the handle with string. The string is coated with glue to keep the brush together.
Plastic ferrules are found on some inexpensive brushes.
The typical and most common ferrules is made of plated steel. A great inexpensive material, its drawbacks are that exposed seams in the plating will rust and the plating can peel. This is especially true with brushes used with water-based finishes. The ferrules can be plated with anything, zinc is common but the ferrule on the left has a nickel plating which gives it a nice warm look.
Copper ferrules are really nice. They aren't as sturdy as steel ferrules and depending on the solvents used they may or may not contaminate the finish. In general they are not common today - probably because of cost.
The best ferrules are made of stainless steel. Hard to damage, immune to corrosion or contamination, it was our choice for our brushes and in a sense it was an obvious choice considering the cost and quality of the hair used in the brush.
This ferrule is a actually two ferrules. First the hair is inserted and glued into a regular plated ferrule and then the ferrule is inserted into soldered shield. We have seen this style of brush referred to as a "fitch" brush. We think the name originates from when, in the early 20th century, very fine finish brushes used fitch hair (a type of weasel) and while real fitch is only used today in artists brushes the name seems to have stuck for this style of ferrule. The shield protects the glue that holds the bristles of the brush in. We think with modern epoxies this style of ferrule isn't needed, and forces the use of a round handle, which we find uncomfortable.
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