Patina is a term that is often used to describe ageing on a variety of metals, leather goods and even wood. While the aged look itself may be due to different reasons — naturally accumulating or artificially induced — the film formed over the object is unmistakably obvious to collectors and antique dealers alike.
A patina is naturally formed after years of use and often appears as a film over the outer surface of the object, be it a brass artefact or a copper bottle or even your favourite leather handbag. But for now, let us explore the patina that we see on metals.
Why is a patina treated in high regard?
The process of the formation or accumulation of a patina is referred to as patination and this can be achieved by natural and unnatural methods. A patina is a testament to the age of the artefact, only if it is naturally accumulated over a certain duration of time. If artificially induced, it could show corrosive effects or unnatural patterns due to improper brushwork.
When a patina accumulates over time, it forms a fairly even layer over the piece and is unique to its frequency of use. Any harsh chemical treatments or cleaning routines could strip the layer, exposing it to the elements yet again. Hence, naturally patinated pieces are always on the expensive side of the scale. To preserve something from further deterioration is the responsibility of the owner, especially if the piece has notable provenance.
Is it safe to use patinated items around the home?
Yes. It is. As long as it is a natural patination and not corrosive in nature. A natural patina always starts as a faint dispersion and darkens over time. However, if the artefact is exposed to extreme weather or climatic conditions, there is always a chance of toxic derivatives forming on the surface.
While most people believe that a patina is flaky, corroded, powdery like rust, a patina is actually a thin film that is dark in colouration and settles over the piece over years of use. A copper glass or a copper bottle, for instance, accumulate a patina over a few years of use. Patination mostly occurs due to the elements and conditions around it such as moisture and oxidation. While moisture certainly helps, it would do more damage than good if the pieces are improperly cleaned and dried.
When acquired over years of use, a patina becomes protective in nature, shielding the inner layer from the harsh elements outside.
Fun fact: Knife collectors often allow the formation of a patina onto the carbon steel blade to help protect it from the elements.
Should I Brasso my artefacts?
This is one of the many questions we get about antique and vintage product care. Using Brasso on a product mostly affects the aesthetics of the piece and entirely depends on the look you desire. If you are inclined towards a bright and shiny look, then Brasso is recommended. But here’s the catch — you’ll lose the protective patina on the piece.
However, if your piece is extensively corroded and tarnished with rust and other sulphates, you can have them professionally cleaned to prevent them from spreading to other areas on the surface.
To learn more about cleaning brass, bronze and copper, click here.
Is Verdigris the same as a Patina?
In a way, yes. Verdigris mostly refers to a bluish-green coating commonly found on brass or copper vessels and figurines. It is also the reason why the Statue of Liberty is doused in green tones from head to toe.
Can I use patinated vessels to cook?
Chances are that you already use them on a daily basis. If you love brass, bronze, and copper vessels and have been using them for a few years now, they might already have a beautiful patina to protect them. However, keep an eye out for corrosion, or green patination that is almost always toxic when used for cooking and storing snacks and savouries around the home.
If you see signs of corrosion and heavy oxidation on your vessels, it is no longer safe for use in the kitchen or for dining purposes.
We hope that this short article has given you some insight into how patinas work. Do let us know if we have missed out on something in the comments section below!
To shop for brass, bronze and copper vessels and artefacts, click here.