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"How to identify if old lamp is brass, copper, bronze, or cast iron?"



Current question:

July 9, 2021

Q. I have a pair of very old lamps that I have thought were bronze but am now thinking they are cast iron with some type of coating.
They are very dark. How can I tell?

23897-1a   23897-1b   23897-1c

Gloria Reeves
- Georgetown, Louisiana
^


July 2021

A. Hi Gloria. Cast iron and steel are strongly magnetic. Brass, bronze, and copper are non-magnetic. Zinc is also non-magnetic and commonly used today as a base/substrate for plating onto, but zinc was probably not used in very old lamps.

I suspect that those lamps are very heavy and that they are either mostly cast iron or cast brass depending on what the magnet tells you.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


July 13, 2021

thumbs up sign Mr. Ted, thanks for your reply. I tried a magnet and the product is nonmagnetic. As I examine these lamps I really think they were urns converted to lamps in the 30s-40s.

Gloria Reeces [returning]
- Georgetown, Louisiana
^



July 12, 2021

Q. Any idea what this lamp is made of, and what the marking is inside the base, thank you.

23897-2a   23897-2b   23897-2c

Rita Wills
- London uk
^



July 20, 2021

Q. Not sure what my lamp is made of and or if it's antique; please help.

23897-3

Tracy Presley
- RICHMOND, Virginia
^


July 2021

A. Hi Tracy. I can see a line running top o bottom through that lamp base and am guessing it's a parting line from a sand casting or die casting, but that's all I can tell. I'd probably just call it an old brass lamp.

My suggestion is to use it if you like it, or put it in the attic for a granddaughter if you don't. Anything is possible, including a discarded lottery ticket you find in the trash actually being a big winner, but for the most part there is much more of this old stuff around than people actually want, so it has no real value. You'll probably see similar stuff on e-bay for under $35, and remember that the posted prices are usually what people are asking, not what they are getting. You can get it appraised but most times the appraisal cost will exceed the appraised value :-(

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^




Closely related historical postings, oldest first:

2003

Q. I have an old lamp that needs to be cleaned, it had green and red spots but after using some vinegar it only has some of the red spots left..

What is best way to clean those and how do you tell what metal it is?

Jason Hall
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
^


2003

A. The only dead easy step is to test it with a magnet. If it's magnetic, it is plated steel rather than either brass or copper. Copper is not as strong and stiff as brass, and also more expensive, so it usually isn't used for lamps except when you want the color of a penny; brass is much yellower, bronze is browner.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


2003

thumbs up sign  Thank You, the Lamp is not magnetic although the thinner pieces are golden and the thicker parts of the lamp have a deeper darker color. It looks like two different types of metal.

Jason Hall [returning]
- Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
^



November 30, 2010

Q. I have applied Brasso [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] to a hundred year old Middle Eastern coffee table. Initially it was almost black, and now it's as shiny as a penny. How do I MAKE SURE that it's actually copper and not brass. Is there a simple "homegrown" procedure to differentiate between both metals?

Joe Bigio
- Clearwater, Florida USA
^


November 30, 2010

A. Hi, Joe. I'm not sure that your question is quite as meaningful as you would like it to be.

Brass is an alloy of zinc and copper, generally ranging from about 60% copper (muntz metal), through 70% (cartridge brass) on up to about 85% (red brass). If the table is the color of a bullet cartridge, or a lamp, or the stanchions for the velvet ropes at a movie theatre, I'd call it brass.

Copper is closer to being pure, about 99.3% for what is called pure copper, but somewhat less than that for what are called dilute copper alloys. The impurity metals may be zinc, or lead, or iron, etc. If it's the color of a penny or a piece of wire or the bottom of a Revereware pot, I'd call it copper.

Short of having x-ray fluorescence analysis performed and coming up with an exact grade or exact chemical analysis, then claiming that i adheres to some specific ASTM spec, I'm not sure that you can go much further than that. For what reason must you give it the name brass or copper with such positivity?

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^



March 24, 2018

Q. I have a lamp which is a warrior on a horse, saying Good-bye to his love. Three stained glass shades. Cannot find markings. Bought out of a 100 yr old house. Any ideas on date made?

Teri Coleman
- Hempstead, texas USA
^


March 2018

A. Hi Teri. This site focuses on metal finishing technology rather Antiques Roadshow issues. But if you mail a photo to we'll post it here, which will increase your likelihood of getting a response, although it's may still be low.

Without a picture or markings, there's probably no sound way to know that an artist/craftsperson didn't fabricate it yesterday :-(   Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^

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