Care & Preservation of Relics found with Metal Detectors

By Daniel Bernzweig

In another Learning Library article, Cleaning Your Finds, we talk about Finch’s Magic Tumble Clean. This safe, non toxic coin cleaner is the best way to clean your common metal detecting finds.Detectorists appreciate the importance of caring for rare and old coins. These valuable treasures can lose much of their numismatic value if scratches are made on them with digging tools or by rubbing off dirt. It is equally important to preserve the value of relics or artifacts that you find in the field. An artifact provides evidence of a former culture; these items are of utmost importance to specialized dealers and collectors. Popular relic treasures range from military buttons and swords to badges, weapons and body armor. As always, any targets of numismatic value should be professionally cleaned. This holds true for the cleaning and preservation of all items covered in this article. Our relic hunting metal detectors category features our top picks for relic detectors.

Relics Made of Iron & Steel

A vast number of relics recovered from the ground are made of iron and steel. When iron is subjected to oxidation, rust forms. Rust will eat away at iron objects, so it’s important to protect these items once found. In order for iron to rust, there has to be moisture and oxygen. Luckily, when an artifact is buried in the ground, very little oxygen reaches it. That’s why some items that are 200 years old can actually be found in good condition. However, once an iron relic has been recovered, the rusting process soon begins.

Depending on the type and age of the iron or steel relic, there are different protection and cleaning methods you can use. If the item doesn’t have great monetary or historical relevance, you can remove surface rust with a wire brush or wire wheel. Apply the brush gently in case the rust has permeated the iron. Some hobbyists use fine bronze wool and mineral spirits. A protective coating should be applied. This can include a clear lacquer, light wax coating, oil-resin varnish or clear plastic spray. These coatings prevent any further rust from forming. If your recovered artifact has potential historical or monetary value, consider having a professional handle the restoration.

Copper and Brass

Copper and brass relics need special attention. Detecting hobbyists frequently post their favorite cleaning methods in forums. Among them: for simple oxidation, a treatment can be made from a homemade mixture. It consists of two parts denatured alcohol, two parts distilled water and precipitate chalk—which makes a thick paste. This can be applied and removed from the object. For heavy copper corrosion, you can use a 5% solution of lemon juice. Let the item soak in the liquid for five minutes increments and gently rub the coating; this speeds up the cleaning process. After cleaning, neutralize the acidic juice by rinsing the item in a solution of water and 5% baking soda; then, rinse in clear water. Things to never use on copper and brass include: a liquid copper polish, or any compound containing chlorides or sulfur compounds.

Cleaning Silver

There are a few different methods for cleaning silver. One of the best ways to treat sterling silver is: use an old aluminum pan or bowl and add an ounce of washing soda to a pint of distilled water. Then place two sheets of crumpled aluminum foil into the liquid. Allow the silver objects to soak until the tarnish is gone. This cleaning method is strictly for silver relics. Do not use it on plated objects or clad coins. There are also many commercially available silver cleaners that are available that do a fine job as well.

Pewter, Lead and Tin

A slight gray patina is normal on pewter, tin and lead relics. Patina is a tarnish that forms on the surface of copper, bronze or similar metals—it is produced by oxidation or other chemical processes. If some polishing is required experts say to use only fine abrasives, such as jeweler’s rouge or rottenstone. If the coating does not respond to either of these, you should take the item to a professional instead of damaging your find.

Caring for Gold Relics or Coins

Gold does not need much cleaning. Many hobbyists find that gold coins and artifacts are unearthed from the ground almost as clean as when they went in. A simple soaking in soapy water is usually all that is needed. This should return your gold object to its original luster. Items made of gold alloy may be polished with jeweler’s rouge; but, do not use sulfur compounds on them.

Not Sure What You’ve Found?

Sometimes you will find an interesting relic that looks like it may be valuable, but you can’t tell what it is. Online forums can be helpful here, too. You can post a picture and ask the other diggers of the world for their advice. Someone with more experience can point you in the right direction. Good luck on your hunts and remember to practice careful retrieval of all treasures, as well as careful cleaning and preservation.

Top Deep Seeking Relic Metal Detectors:

See Underground Image Scans of Targets

For the first time ever, the idea of seeing underground image scans of the target has become a reality! The engineering team at DRS electronics in Germany has brought to life the DRS Ground Exper Pro. This device will show realtime image scans right before your eyes. Gold, Silver and other Valuable metals are shown in full color on a PC Tablet as the display. Junk metals like Iron are also clearly displayed. The Ground Exper Pro allows you to save target signals for later review and offers menus in eight languages.

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