The earliest civilisations of China, Egypt, Greece and Rome made bronze coins and statues, ad bronze was later used to cast bells and cannon – the original Victoria Crosses were made from bronze of Russia cannon captured in the Crimean War. It finally became extremely popular with British and Indian craftsmen in Victorian times for casting small statuettes and art objects that today, have become rare and sought after antiques.

Bronze ages well and acquires its own patina in various shades of brown or blue-green. It needs no polishing, but wipe it occasionally with a soft, dry cloth. Corrosion, however, is common. Bright green spots – sometimes called bronze disease – starts in a small area and spread swiftly like a rash to cover the whole object. Remove the corrosion either by scraping carefully with a knife or by heavy rubbing with a brass brush. Do not use a steel or wire bush, which can damage the antique surface and cause the corrosion to reappear later. Swab heavily corroded areas with a 10% solution of acetic acid solution in water. If the antique has a broken piece, soft solder it and colour the shiny solder joint with a bronze-coloured lacquer until it blends in with the adjacent bronze. It is also possible to use bronze wax gilt, but this is not as durable as lacquer.

Silver has been used for making jewellery, ornaments and utensils for at least 5000 years. Valuable antique pieces should be taken to a specialist craftsman for repair or re-plating. Silver is usually hard-soldered at the joints, but the soldering temperature, especially of the surrounding metal and the base metal under silver plate, is crucial. The work is tricky and much damage can be caused to antiques by inexperience.

Both silver and silver plate tarnish and corrode quickly, especially in coastal areas: salt in the atmosphere causes silver chloride to form. Corrosion can be treated effectively with a proprietary silver dip. Great care should be taken when cleaning the antique with silver dip, especially when the base metal is exposed. Just a quick in-and-out dip and rinse with clean warm water. Clean any remaining bad spots with a paste of French chalk and methylated spirits, or in warm water with a few drops of ammonia added. The older the antique piece is the more likely the silver or silver plate will react to the cleaning process, so care should be taken to apply cleaning agents in small doses.

For polishing silver antiques it is best to use a long lasting silver polish, this will save the piece from continual cleaning and prolong its life. Scratched antiques can be remedied by rubbing with jewellers’ rouge or fine crocus powder. Wrapping silver antiques in tissue paper and placing it in a polythene bag will protect and keep it shiny indefinitely.

Craftsmen throughout time have also fallen for the shiny allure that gold presents. Antique gold jewellery has been found dating as far back as 3000BC in Mesopotamian burial hoards. The purity of gold is expressed in carats. A carat is a 24th part, so 22-carat gold contains 22 parts of gold and 2 parts of other hardening metals. This evaluating system is what gives gold antique pieces its value. Period and craftsmen also have a lot to do with the value of a specific antique piece.

Because of the value of gold, its repair and restoration is best left to an expert goldsmith. If gold antiques become dull, the shine can be restored by, polishing with either a jewellers’ rouge or chamois leather. Small items such as rings can be burnished with a piece of polished steel, such as a knitting needle, but this method should not be used on engraved metal. Clean gold antiques by washing them in warm, soapy water and polishing with a soft cloth or chamois leather.

Michael Russell

Your Independent guide to Antiques

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Author: Michael Russell

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