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Help: brass discolored by long-term labels


Musical Director
Mar 22, 1999
At the Oregon show today, I picked up several nice pieces including two from a fellow who said he'd had the knives for years and the prices labeled on them with small, self-adhesive were old.

The first is a Ken Elgin butterfly with a three-inch blade and brass handles wonderfully inlaid with mother of pearl and white stag -- a wonderful, classic Elgin butterfly.

The second is a very early Bali-Song Cutlery butterfly with a four-inch weehawk with the back edge sharpened (apparently factory) and very far back on the blade (almost looks like a spearpoint) with, and this is the great part, brass handles.

When I removed the now gummy price labels from the brass handles on both knives, I found the brass discolored under them. It's not just scum on the handle. I've tried several solvents. There's no stickiness or feeling of residue. The brass is just discolored.

Is there anything I can do?


I had a similar problem, but found some stuff that works pretty good. You said you've tried several solvents, what have you used? I used some "stuff" called Maas polishing creme. It makes Brasso look like tapwater. Just a suggestion, it worked for me.
I tried alcohol, WD40, and Xylene.

I think I've got to polish, but I really don't want to do that since I'll have to polish it all to get it to look right and I'll also destroy the natural aged look.

Organic solvents like alcohol, xylene and WD40 won't touch metal oxidation. Your discoloration is a few microns+ deep oxidation (if steel it would be "rust"). Had they worked, you'd still have to do the whole knife to match. Uncoated brass (no wax or oil) will oxidze in air rather quickly and get that aged patina, so it wouldn't look "shiney new" very long.

If you choose not to use any of the various metal polishers or even toothpaste, your only other alternative is to rub the spot with a piece of cloth and eventually it will come off

Don't use Brasso! It actually removes metal.
Use Mother's Aluminium and Magnesium polish.
This stuff is great for brass to, but the BEST part is that it isn't an abrasive! It removes NO metal at all. It's microbial or somthing, I don't remember exactly, but it's great and cleans up with water and a soft rag.
It will remove any patina or discoloration you have, but if you wipe it clean after rinsing with hot water and then DO NOT touch with your bare hands, it will develop a nice uniform aged look in a few days to a week.

OOPS! Forgot something,
You can pick it up at most Automotive parts stores.
"Works great on gold jewelry too!"
I cut it, and I cut it, and it's STILL too short!

[This message has been edited by Ken Cook (edited 10 April 1999).]
Thanks Ken - I would have suggested Brasso also, but will have to rethink that one now!

Where do you find Mother's Aluminum and Magnesium polish? Oops, just saw the automotive store part - thanks a bunch!

[This message has been edited by Bob Irons (edited 10 April 1999).]
I agree with Ken 100%. I've used Mothers mag and aluminum polish now for 4 years. I work at a machine shop, and am exposed to a wide range of metals. I use Mothers for them all. If u polish the metal long enough u can get a mirror polish from most and metal. I've grown quite fond of the smell too.

Flitz is the best I found for brass. Makes brassw look like gold. safe as well.
I have used all of the above, plus never dull and a few more that i cant remember.

The best all around metal polish available that ive used is Semichrome.

Semichrome is available from Brownells and some Harley Davidson Dealers carry it.

If you mean Simichrome Polish by Happich (Imported from Germany, by Competition Chemicals, Inc., Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126], A.G. Russell is also a fan of this polishing paste.
which if purchased alone is $9.95 with free shipping. My tube is actually 1.76 ounces or 50 grams, not the 1 1/4 oz mentioned.
I cannot qualitatively compare it to other polishes, but can say it certainly works fine.
I have tried them all. I would first rcomend Never Dull. Not sure if they call it that now but last I saw Eagle One car care products was selling it in a blue tin container. Check out Wallmart they had it last I looked. Bar none it is the best IMO! Second choice for me would be Flitz. Brasso is also a very good old stand by. My choice is based from a dare by my father and side by side testing. He swore by Brasso. Old military man you know.
Well dad sort of lost a lil $5.00 bet on that one. =) I would avoid Something like Metal Glow since it is abrasive. If by chance the Adhessive from the labels is still there use lighter fluid or nail polish remover to get rid of it before poishing. I am guessing the WD 40 already removed it though. Best of luck.


Tom Carey

My new web site is up.
Please check it out. :)


Thanks for your most valuable replies. It's very good to be able to tap such experts so easily.

Last night, I noticed my neighbor, who is a motorcycle enthusiast out polishing one of his gleam-machine bikes, so I grabbed a pair of beers and headed over. I asked what he was using to polish so nicely and he said Mother's polish. I explained my problem. He said he'd used Mother's on brass with great success. So, he spotted me a dab and also came along to help.

I only tried the Ken Elgin piece since it has polished brass. The stuff worked great. The Bali-Song piece, though, I'm just going to leave. I just don't want to disturb the wonderful thrity year old patina on this significant piece. The little bit of oxidation isn't that bad, I guess. I don't like it and I wish it wasn't there, but I just can't bring myself to polish it.

On the other hand, my neighbor then said, "I heard that switchblades are legal in Oregon. Is that true?" So, I explained it all to him, showed him my very few autos, and he decided to tag along with me to the show today. I think we have a new collector.

Again, thanks for all your suggestions and help.