Home  
 Updates 
  Search  
 Contact 
Ribbons Sources on Japanese medals

So you are decided to clean your medals? Mmm... Let's try if we can avoid it. The following advices have been given to me by experienced collectors from everywhere in the world, and in the only case I disregarded them I am still reproaching it to myself.

The general advice is to never clean medals. With the time, they take a kind of tarnish called patina whose aspect vary depend on the materials employed in their construction. It never should be removed, as it is the best mark of authenticity a medal can show. Obviously, fakers and unscrupulous dealers try to emulate the patina when reproducing some expensive pieces, but the artifical patinas can be distinguished  from the original. In the only example of a decidedly fake medal I have had in my hands with artificial aging (an Iron Cross), the artificial patina of the silver (or German silver, depending of the period) was easily distinguible because it looked like a glued brownish dirt applied onto the silver, instead of the normal black matt, more uniform, natural aging of the silver. Collectors never remove the proofs of aging in a medal. This decreases its valour in, at less, 50%.

In Japanese silver medals we have a good ally: Japanese silver has a different composition than the European (if someone knows the exact reason, please tell me).

There are inexperienced collectors (and even dealers) that have comitted the almost worst crime they can do:  to refinishing them with a film of new material to try to restore them to their original condition (as when awarded). This is a enormous mistake: almost none collector would purchase such an item. Moreover, bear in mind that modern film techniques are industrial, with a craftmanship much poorer than that of the old artisans. So your original medal maybe will look like a fake item (imagine a doughnut covered by a film of chocolate, that is) after such a treatment.

To end this "exaltation of the patina", please bear in mind that the natural aging usually never damages the item: once the patina is created, it acts like a covering film that protects the metal under it. If  you remove the patina, you will be condemned to clean it again and again. In the end you will wear the medal out.

Now I will give some advice for the five types of materials more used in medal building and which are the only steps I would carry out on them:

Gold: Medals aren't  pieces of jewelry, so almost all medals that has this material have it in form a tiny wash. Cleaning will normally remove (or help to remove) the thin layer of gold.

There are many medals (as the Order of the Golden Kite 6th/7th classes), on which the gold wash is so thin that normally disappears after being exposed for some months to the open air, so in most of these items I have seen  the gold wash is almost unnoticeable, if something is left. Do not use chemical products for cleaning metals, as they are normally abrasive: each time you clean the medal you are destroying some more of the gold layer.

Silver: is the favourite target of medal-cleaners: the dark patina, seeming just dirt, fools them. Only if the item has real dirt the following cleaning method can be used: use a worn out, very soft,  toothbrush and a very mild soap. With it, rub carefully in the areas on which dirt is located. After that, dry completely what is left of soap and humidity. A hair drier and a lot of patience give the final touch to ensure this goal is reached. You are allowed to do this process only once (when you purchase the dirty medal).

Bronze: bronze and other alloys that contain copper can develop a sort of green spots, which is the colour of the copper oxide. Please do not attempt to clean it in any way, as this oxide acts like a film that protects the metal under it of further oxidation (not like in the case of iron). If you remove the green layer, it will shortly appear again and you'll be condemned to clean it once more until the medal be a mess.

Iron: Although I don't know of any Japanese medal made of iron, it is found in medals of other countries and I include it here for reference. The problem of the iron is that can get rusty. The oxide of the iron expands into the medal, so you may use varnish to avoid further damage.

Zinc: I haven't found zinc in Japanese official medals, but a collector told me once that can be found in items produced in late WWII. Zinc deteriorates rapidly, being affected by oxidation (that, like in the iron, gets deeper into the metal under) and by some types of fungus that make a lot of small white spots on the surface. A 5% caustic soda solution with some zinc in it will clean the oxide. The fungus will be killed by cleaning the medal with a smooth cotton cloth soaked up in lighter fuel or, even better, petrol. This is also the best way to remove grease of a medal.


Top of page Ribbons Sources on Japanese medals
 Home 
 Updates 
 Search 
 Contact 
 xavierb.org