To Polish or Not - I


English Arts & Crafts Hammered and Tooled Small Copper Tray (LEO Design)


A customer recently asked me for advice on polishing-up her antique metal trays.  This got me to thinking—clarifying my thoughts of when and why I would (or wouldn't) polish something.

When it comes to copper, the English tend to polish everything.  And, in most cases, the copper probably was fully-polished on the day it left the craftman's workshop.  American collectors, on the other hand, have an aversion to polishing copper—regardless of whether the metal was originally polished or chemically-patinated.

As for me, I judge each situation based on the merits of the case.  Ideally, a piece would always have a dark, even, nut-brown patina.  Alas, this is rarely the case.  When I acquire a piece of copper in England (as I often do), I have no choice in the matter of whether the piece has been polished or not.  I must take it or leave it.  And, if a piece is discolored (or someone started polishing and gave-up), it might need to be professionally polished to a high shine—just to restore an even finish. If there is any bas relief repoussé work on the metal, one might choose to polish the "high spots" more than the crevices (to give the handwork a visual high-and-low "pop").  And, very importantly, one must always remove any residual polish from the crevices after polishing (otherwise it may dry and cake unattractively).   After polishing, it can be left to darken evenly—though copper is not fast to oxidize.

Once a piece of copper is polished, I always hang or place it up high, out of reach, where it can begin to darken unmolested.  The oils on hands can leave fingerprints—which will leave spotty blemishes (looking like fingerprints) on the metal as it darkens around the fingermarks.  Once a piece of copper begins to darken, it becomes less susceptible to the fingerprint problem.  And a nice, dark piece of copper can always be waxed with some clear paste wax—which will give it a soft lustre.  In fact, you can wax a piece any time it reaches your preferred color (as the wax retards future oxidation).  Wax on a copper tray will help prevent marks or mishaps during use.  It is still important to wipe-off  a copper tray after use, just to remove any substances which may discolor the metal.

The English Arts & Crafts tray, shown above, was made around the Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century.  It's modestly sized, perfect for two-to-four drinks.  But its hand-tooled decoration makes it a wonderful decorative piece hanging on the wall.  Click on the photo above to learn more about it.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248