Medals and Awards

This is a debated area of collecting, with one camp arguing that cleaning the medals takes away value and history, and the another saying that it is acceptable. What it really comes down is a personal decision and hopefully here you will find some information that will help you make that decision, and tips on how to clean them should you choose to do so.

I will once again refer to the forum, and the final portion of the post by Mr. Ailsby.

"Generally speaking, DO NOT attempt to clean medals. I have seen more good medals ruined by cleaning than from any other cause and unless you have obtained expert advice or practiced on medals of little value, it is better to leave them alone. There is a difference between the tone or bloom of a medal and ordinary dirt. A beautiful tone in which many colors of the rainbow can be seen is caused by natural oxidation of the surface with the atmosphere and can take years to form. Although it may make a silver medal look much darker than when it was new, a tone can enhance the look of a medal and to clean it off reduces it in value. This is particularly true of bronze medals, which are often found with a hard smooth green coating. This is known as “patina” and on no account should this be removed. Dirt on the other hand can be removed from gold and silver medals by first soaking them in warm soapy water and then brushing with an old toothbrush.

Medals made of pure gold never corrode and should not require more than washing and brushing. Sometimes silver medals become tarnished almost black from the sulfur acids in the air. This will not normally be noticed in country districts but in London or near any large industrial area a medal may become tarnished in a very short time. The best way to remove this is by gently dabbing the surface with a piece of cotton wool soaked in 'Silver Dip’ that can be obtained from most stores. The polishing cloth sold with 'Silver Dip' should not be used as it will shine the surface and spoil the look of the medal. A 10% solution of ammonia will also remove tarnish and improve silver medals that contain copper as an alloy. When “Silver Dip” is used the medals need only be dried with cotton wool but it is advisable to thoroughly wash any medal clean with ammonia.

Medals made of copper or copper with other alloys, are the most likely to require attention at one time or another. Verdigris is the usual enemy and appears as green spots. If the area of corrosion is not great or very deep, a bone needle may be used to loosen and remove the verdigris. Badly contaminated medals should be alternately soaked in a 20% solution of sodium sesquicarbonate and worked with the bone needle.

Zinc will be frequently found and should it become necessary to improve such medals, they are best treated by immersing in a 5% solution of caustic soda containing some zinc or aluminum filings, after which they must be thoroughly washed. It is advisable to varnish the medals in order to prevent any further oxidation of the surface. This should only be done if actual damage has occurred, for sealing the medal can seal in the source of the deterioration.

Lead, tin, and iron were rarely used if ever on original medals and are normally found in conjunction with fake items.

An excellent method of removing grease from any medal is to wipe with cotton wool soaked in petrol or lighter fuel. Should a stronger action be needed, trichlorethylene may be used but only in a well ventilated room as this substance is used as an anaesthetic.

The surface of silver and copper medals can be improved by using a brush on which a spot of linseed oil has been placed."

Whatever you decide, be cautions, because the damage that can be done far outweighs the gains. Attempts to clean the award with the wrong products can result in irreversible damage; the delicate finish may come right off. Abrasives and commercial cleaners should not be used for the cleaning of awards, but if you decide to tempt fate, try it on a small piece of the badge to see its effects. Make sure to dry the medal thoroughly when done, and in the case of Iron Crosses do so with a blow dryer because water which you can not see may get in the minute crevices of the cross (and iron easily rusts).


Here is some further advice from an experienced Dagger collector, Jody Beltram;

1. Before storing the daggers (in their scabbard) placed a silicon-based oil on the blades called SNAKE OIL. The oil can be bought, at specialty knife shops.

2.If the fittings of a edged weapon or blade needs some cleaning, use semi-chrome polish, it is really excellent, and does not affect the graining of a blade.

3.If the blade has rust spots or graying, use a #2 pencil and scribble on the area until it either comes out or fades to where it really isn't noticeable. The #2 pencil is an old trick, and antique folks have used it for years on items such as silver.

4.If the dagger has a celluloid grip (you can remove the grip), I scrub out the dirt or grime with a soft toothbrush and a soap that doesn't leave a film like Ivory or Kirk's of Castille.

5.An old soft T-shirt can do wonders for nickel fittings, just do not rub too hard.

6.If the scabbard has old lacquer on it and you want it removed, use acetone and a Q-Tip. However, don not get it near a celluloid grip or it can combust.

7.Use Mineral spirits on wood grips. The wood on daggers is very old and it just drinks up the stuff, but don not apply too much. In many cases the wood can swell up some and hide minor cracks. It also helps get ride of any scuffing to the wood.

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