Aged to Perfection

French Nouveau Dimpled Pewter Vase (LEO Design)

Given time and the right environmental conditions, all metals will "patinate" (that is, "tarnish"). Some metals, like silver, tarnish very quickly. Others, like copper, take decades to develop a rich, dark patina. Pewter needs several years (and dry conditions) to develop a dark, rich grey finish like the French Art Nouveau vase, shown above. Brass falls on the middle of the "tarnish continuum." And some metals, like bronze, are often purposely patinated at the time of manufacture to give them a certain look—for example, antique gold, chocolate brown or verdigris green.

In the world of decorative arts, the condition of a metal's finish can often make-or-break the value of an item. Although tastes vary, the general rule is: the longer it takes to develop a deep, rich patina, the more valuable that un-molested patina may be. And original patinas (that is, those applied at the time of manufacture) should never be removed. There are regional preferences, too. For example, American Arts & Crafts collectors tend to like their copper and pewter darkly aged.  In England, however, it is customary to "polish-up" those two materials.

The "evenness" of the finish is another factor to consider; sometimes a mottled (or partially/badly polished) object needs to be stripped of patina completely—and left to age again (ideally without handling).

The little dimpled pewter vase, shown here, was made in France in the 1910's. It has a nice, rich patina which indicates it's had a few decades to age in solitude. Please click on the photo above to learn more about it.


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