Polished vs Lacquered Brass? Brass 101 - here are easy tips and tricks to clean, polish, and maintain brass.
Refresh your stocking hangers, wreath hangers and trivets each holiday season with a quick wash in hot water using Wright's copper cream found in most hardware or grocery stores. Gently dry using a very old, soft cloth to prevent scratching the brass. Followed by a quick once over with any good metal polish, and your Jefferson Brass products will sparkle like new! No need to do anything with the lacquered ones other than wipe them with a clean soft cloth. Do Not polish lacquered brass as it will break down the protective coating. How to tell if you have lacquered or polished pieces? Apply a tiny amount of polish in a small area, and if the cloth turns black after gentle rubbing, your brass is polished. and you can begin the annual cleaning.
Every year, the Jefferson Brass Company designs spectacular new products in its most popular lines to help keep their loyal customer base returning. The top selling item every year is the solid brass Christmas stocking hangers and holders. Originally designed by Jefferson Brass Creative Director, Jack J. Goehring, III, the stocking hangers are designed to hold any amount of weight. By far the most creative Christmas decorative accessory of this generation, the Jefferson Brass Christmas stocking hangers were the first of their kind. Designed as treasured heirlooms to be passed down through the generations at Christmas, the Jefferson brass stocking hangers and mantel hooks are a unique and delightful way to hang Christmas stockings on a fireplace mantel. Most popular designs include the traditional angels, Christmas tree, Santa, wreath, and snowman stocking hangers and should be the top sellers once again.
Why Some People Prefer Lacquered Brass
Lacquer is a clear coating which protects and preserves the brass by sealing it from air, which oxidizes (tarnishes) it. Lacquer does not initially affect the color of the brass and is thought to eliminate the need for polishing. However, with the onset of oxidation, the lacquer will eventually deteriorate. So when we began our business 35 years ago, we decided to hand polish each piece, and seal it in air tight bags, rather than lacquer.
There are three major reasons why we didn’t lacquer—one was practical and other others were historical and artistic. First, any lacquer on brass will eventually tarnish and deteriorate—particularly items that are used outdoors and exposed to the elements, like door knockers. Lacquer on items subject to abrasion from manual use, such as candlesticks, fireplace tools and desk accessories, will also discolor and break down. Simply, any lacquered brass item that is useful will in time develop an impaired finish. The period of time for this deterioration will vary depending on location, atmospheric condition, temperature, pollutants, etc. Unfortunately, this condition can’t be corrected by polishing. Before re-polishing, the old lacquer must be removed.
Second, as many of our items are reproductions of famous historical pieces, we thought it was in keeping with their character that they have the natural, hand-polished look. Artificial and temporary finishes such as lacquer detract from their authenticity, we believed.
Finally there were overwhelming aesthetic reasons why we preferred the natural luster of highly polished brass. The color of recently polished brass has a “whiteness” and sparkle about it that is obtained in no other way. It is breathtaking! It is this unique combination of clear color plus the mild warm patina that is created over time by judicious hand polishing that makes the old method of finishing and polishing by hand so special.
All brass that does not have a varnish/lacquer must be polished from time to time, just like fine silver. It is a simple process that should not be a deterrent from buying unlacquered brass. Jefferson Brass Company has traditionally never lacquered its brass products until now. Instead they enthusiastically promoted a "living finish," which allows you to polish when you want a high gloss look, or not polish when you want a more aged/antique look. When you buy a piece of Jefferson Brass and chose polished as the finish, it is unlacquered, which means that it will require you to clean the brass from time to time to maintain its brilliant shine. Depending on the piece and how much it is handled, you can tell when it needs polishing because its original glow will begin to turn an aged, golden color. How to clean brass:
Indoor pieces that are not handled often will need polishing 3-4 times a year depending on the atmospheric conditions in your area. Exterior pieces, like door knockers, will need polishing every month to keep them in the bright, high gloss condition you received them.
A question that we often hear is, “How can I tell if my existing brass in my home is lacquered?” Simple. Using a soft cloth, apply metal polish to a section of the piece. If the cloth turns dark/black after rubbing, your piece is unlacquered, and you can proceed with polishing. If there is no color on the cloth, stop! You do not want to polish lacquered brass because chemicals in the polish can break down the temporary protective coating.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, used and prized since ancient times for its beauty, resilience, and durability. Color variations are the result of slightly different proportions of copper and zinc. Brass can be cast (Jefferson Brass), forged, spun, or die-cut. It is used in our homes for fine hardware, lighting fixtures, fireplace equipment, candlesticks and many other decorative pieces. It can also be finished in a number of ways. These include highly polished (Jefferson Brass); satin or brushed finish; hand rubbed finish; and antique, bronze and verdigris.
A piece is solid brass if the material is pure brass—whether it is the hollow tube of a fire tool or chandelier arm or a two pound candle holder. Jefferson Brass is always solid brass. Solid brass can be polished to its original beauty, but if a piece has been lacquered in the past, you must first remove the old lacquer. It can be removed without damaging the brass by using paint or lacquer remover.
If you are wondering if your piece is solid brass or brass plated, here is how you can tell. Test with a magnet. Solid brass is not magnetic. If the magnet sticks, the item is most likely steel or cast iron and has been brass plated. Still not convinced? Take a sharp tool, and scratch a small area that is unnoticeable. If you see yellow underneath that scratch mark, it is more than likely solid brass.
Fast forward to the year 2011. Jefferson Brass did not previously lacquer its pieces because we liked the look/patina of hand polished brass, and many of our customers preferred the same. If you find that time just doesn’t allow you to polish your brass, then you may consider having it lacquered. We now offer our custom lacquer process because we understand time restraints don't allow for the luxury of hand polishing your brass. We are very pleased with the results of our superior lacquer process. But remember clear lacquer finish is not forever. The durability of lacquer on outdoor items, such as door knockers, varies widely depending on the location and how much direct or indirect weathering the piece is subject to. You can always re-polish and re-lacquer if necessary.