How to Tell if It's Copper or Brass

Written by lynn anders
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How to Tell if It's Copper or Brass
An example of patina on copper is found on the Statue of Liberty. (NA/ Images)

Humans have been using the element copper in everything from jewellery to coins to water pipes for more than 10,000 years, according to the Copper Development Association. A mixture of zinc and copper makes up brass metals, also used for centuries by man. Although there are many chemical differences in the properties of brass and copper items, you can tell if your item is copper or brass with just a visual inspection.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Metal cleaner
  • Rag

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  1. 1

    Look for the colour of any patina on the item. Older copper objects will have a green corrosion that develops over time through oxidisation, referred to as patina. Brass objects turn a dark brown to black colour with oxidisation.

  2. 2

    Clean the object with a polish made specifically for cleaning metals, using a soft rag. Cleaners such as Brasso and MAAS will clean both copper and brass without damaging the item. This will allow you to see the natural colour of the item.

  3. 3

    Look at the colour of the object. Copper objects will have a reddish- or orange-brown colour, while brass objects will look more yellow like gold. Copper objects will also be darker than brass objects.

Tips and warnings

  • Cleaning an antique copper or brass item may reduce its value. To determine the metal type of antique items, clean only a small inconspicuous spot or take it to an antique dealer for advice.

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