Brick is one of the toughest and most rugged building products around. Just ask the big, bad wolf. When he huffed and puffed he could not blow the third little pig's house down because it was made of brick. But what is brick made of? Mostly a simple mixture of common materials like clay, shale, and water, which is then heated or fired. When dried, brick is extremely durable. Some brick portions of the Great Wall of China are still standing some 2300 years after it was constructed.
Besides durability, brick has some other characteristics which have made it a favorite for thousands of years. It is low maintenance and is visually appealing, and also acts as a great insulator (especially against noise.) It is a good choice for green construction.
Old bricks are particularly appealing to most people. They are "time-tested" links to the past. Old demolished buildings and ripped-up streets can provide a demonstrable link to the past if you can obtain some of the old bricks. The bricks themselves are often over one hundred years old, antiques in themselves. Add in the historical connection, especially to local history, and you have a winning combination which looks great and is practically indestructible. You can often buy these vintage bricks from the owner or the demolition contractor. What a great way to recycle still-usable bricks for your home project! They do well as pavers, used on driveways, walks, or used in small sections of interior walls.
Not all bricks are able to be salvaged, but old brick pavers are usually "keepers". They were usually hard-fired, and each brick is unique, waterproof, and weather-resistant. They are sought after not only for their strength, but because of their darker colors, which have remained in vogue throughout the years. Heavy machinery can remove them quickly, but in the process, there is the danger they might be destroyed. Bricks with a soft mortar can often be salvaged from older buildings and look wonderful after they are cleaned.
Bricks manufactured prior to World War II are cleaned by brushing off debris, then removing any soft lime-based mortar with a mild acidic solution (follow all safety precautions, especially covering your skin and eyes). Follow the cleaning with pressure washing. Bricks manufactured after WWII are nearly impossible to clean because most likey Portland cement-based mortar was used, and this creates such strong bond that it is very difficult to separate the brick.
Special care should be taken with mortar used on recycled brick. It is best to contact your local brick yard for this. They will probably recommend a mortar that is formulated to be softer and more water-vapor permeable than the brick itself. If you use the wrong mortar choice on vintage brick, the brick may trap moisture and crack or "peel", especially in colder climates.
Both vintage brick and contemporary brick are quality choices for building materials. That old look can be achieved by a creative combination of brick and mortar.