TO CLEAN OR NOT TO CLEAN?
Nobody can say for sure, because it depends on personal preference. Personally I clean. What's the point of having some dirty, disgusting lump of metal on display in an otherwise beautiful house? I don't care how old it is!
What's important is HOW you clean, not whether you clean. Over enthusiastic cleaning can obviously destroy an antique, because chemicals, and hard rubbing with any abrasive material, can remove any fine engravings, etchings or that irreplaceable patina of time.
We don't want our valuable antique to become just another piece of shiny ironmongery, so it is fair to make the point here that clean doesn't have to mean high gloss shiny!
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The colour of brass is proportional to the other metals present in the alloy, but it generally turns out to be golden yellow and quite hard, capable of taking a high polish. As with any metal, exposure to air causes the surface to oxidise and tarnish, at which time the colour can change to brown or greenish black.
It's useful to know whether your brass piece is plated or solid, because obviously a plated piece can and very often does wear through to reveal the base metal. Cleaning, then, can often make matters worse. It's easy to test using a small magnet. If the magnet sticks, the object is plated, if not, it's solid brass.
For dirt, just use hot soapy water and a cloth, with an old toothbrush for awkward areas.
Light tarnishing can be removed effectively with a long-term silver polishing cloth.
Heavy tarnishing will require rather more effort with long term brass and copper polish, either as a liquid or impregnated wadding (Goddards or Brasso respectively). Long-term generally means that the liquid contains an ingredient that clings to the brass, providing an atmospheric barrier that reduces future tarnishing.
This simple home remedy seems to be the one preferred by many people in the trade. MIXTURE: One level tablespoon of salt, one tablespoon of vinegar in half a pint of hot water. Alternatively, make up a paste of flour, salt and vinegar.
Clean carefully without rubbing hard. Wash off with hot soapy water, rinse and dry, then apply polish.
In all the above cases wipe clean and dry of cleaning solutions to prevent pitting or the possibility of chemical damage to the surface metal. Once clean, try to refrain from touching the brass with your fingers as this will immediately begin the tarnishing process again, position the piece with a cloth. Done thoroughly, cleaned brass should last for several years, with just the odd wipe over and a quick buffing to maintain the shine.
GOLD: Gold objects and jewellery can be solid, plated, silver gilt or ormolu. Whichever category your piece falls into the care label reads the same, all gold should be treated with the utmost care.
Gold is a soft metal and is therefore easily scratched or otherwise abraded and thinly plated layers are all to easily rubbed away to reveal the base metal. Low carat golds can tarnish, but generally gold shouldn't be cleaned save for a gentle washing in warm soapy water.
BRONZE: An alloy of copper and tin, although small quantities of zinc and lead may also be present. The tarnish or authentic deep brown patina of old bronze should never be removed with any kind of chemical, rubbing or cleaning agent, or a serious reduction in its value will be the result. If you've got one and ruin it, it won't be any good again until your great grandchildren inherit it, so be warned!
Keep bronzes in a dry atmosphere. A damp environment can cause areas of corrosion characterized by light green spots that feel rough. Clean by dusting with a soft bristled brush.
I'm reliably informed that cleaning is supposed to be therapeutic, but I really do find it a chore.
Whatever you think, have fun with your antiques and take care of them for the next generation.
Author: Phil Chave URL: www.antiquecollector.uk.com
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