View Poll Results: Should a person polish his old brass lenses?

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  • Yes

    4 16.67%
  • No

    20 83.33%
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Thread: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

  1. #11
    Cameron Cornell
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    Oct 2016
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    Washington State
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    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    Quote Originally Posted by ic-racer View Post
    Is this to use a lens as a prop?
    A prop? No. I shoot 5x7 and 8x10 portraits (a few of them are at www.analogportraiture.com). I am quite interested in the history of this equipment, but I wouldn't keep anything that I couldn't use to make photographs. I'm going to use this particular lens with a 7x11 Eastman View No. 2 as soon as I am finished fabricating a collar to support all the weight up front.

  2. #12

    Join Date
    Aug 2000
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    California
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    2,481

    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cameron Cornell View Post
    I almost posted this question on Kent's message about the Derogy he has that was polished on the inside (!) as well as the outside, but I don't want to hijack his thread.

    What do you think? I have this nice brass lens (a Wollensak Vitax No. 2 that I was asking about in another thread) that has a patina that is pretty even. My impulse is just to leave it alone. But I am also (as a former tall ship deckhand on the Exy Johnson) a sucker for polished brass, and a part of me really wants to break out the Brasso.

    I know how long it takes for a new patina to form on a boat (not long). This is the first un-lacquered brass lens I've owned. How long for a patina to reform on a lens that will be used in the studio and the field? Does anyone want to weigh in with their own opinions about whether or not these old lenses should be polished?
    Never polish!

  3. #13

    Join Date
    Dec 2014
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    34

    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    Let the patina build up then hand rub a thin coat of shellac, French Polish.



    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  4. #14

    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    AZ
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    3,862

    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    All brass lenses were originally lacquered, to preserve the shiny brass. There is no "patina" on an original varnished lens. Over the decades and generations, many have been polished to the extent that the varnish is gone. The earlier the lens, the less likely there is any original varnish. But to think a brown patina is from 1865 or is ancient is a misconception. Those lenses were varnished, and held no fingerprints and didn't turn brown, until the varnish wore off. Unfinished brass can turn brown in just a couple years. This Darlot was found still in it's shipping box, with 100% original lacquer, over 100 years old and still bright:




    Some varnish was very tough, like Dallmeyers. Some very thin, like Holmes Booth Haydens. Jumping forward 40 years to the OP's Wollensak, you can be certain it has been polished several times, after someone removed the varnish. That could have happened in 1940, or 1985. So polishing your Vitax will just be redoing what has been done already, perhaps several times.

    On an older lens, say pre 1880, I would never polish the brass unless it is green with verdigris. Brown I leave alone, and any with partial lacquer remaining I leave alone. This old lens has half it's varnish remaining. That is history, and should not be touched.


  5. #15

    Join Date
    Mar 2012
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    Scotland
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    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    Looking at yours, I'd actually polish - so that both flange and the barrel then can develop an even patina. Under most other circumstances I wouldn't however.

  6. #16
    Cameron Cornell
    Join Date
    Oct 2016
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    Washington State
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    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    Thanks to all of you for your input. And thank you, Garrett, for helping to clarify the issue of varnish vs. polish, which upon reflection is self-evident, but I hadn't thought about it that way.

    I was pretty firmly in the "don't polish" camp, but after considering the fact that all of the original varnish is long gone so that all a polish would be doing is restarting a cycle that the brass has been through (probably) multiple times, well, I'm wavering. I can't imagine ever getting rid of this lens, and as I'm planning to shoot for decades yet (My plan is to live a good long life!), why not start fresh and imprint my own history on the brass? The patina currently on the lens may well be from the "history" of just the past five years.

    As Rick Denney would put it:

    Cameron "as confused as ever" Cornell

  7. #17

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    Sep 2007
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    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    In your case, polish it then wax it. Just use Brasso, no abrasives or steel wool. Wax will keep it shiny through careful handling.

    Brass is one of those metals like sterling silver. No one lets their sterling tea set turn black with tarnish. No one lets their vintage trumpet turn brown with tarnish. Most metals that turn easily are varnished, but not things you eat out of or off of. So trumpets and lenses and brass clocks and many other antiques are polished once at the factory, then lacquered to preserve the shine. People think a brown, cruddy lens is somehow historic. But truly it's just deteriorated.

    However, the original lacquer is a valuable finish, and should never be removed. Same as the finish on a tiffany lamp, or an original Chippendale dresser. You don't touch them. I have several 1860s lenses that have original lacquer and look like the day they were made. But once polished down to bare metal, the original finish is gone.

  8. #18

    Join Date
    May 2010
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    St. Louis, Mo.
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    2,677

    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    I used to work for an architectural sheet metal shop. We made custom copper gutters, valleys, standing seam roofs, etcetera and installed them on older expensive homes. We loved the shiny copper but homeowners preferred a patina.

    On one job, two of our guys installed a copper standing seam roof on a small front porch. They rubbed it with some special chemical to age it. The owner wasn't happy with the results so the guys went back out to the job and peed into a 5 gallon bucket. They then swabbed their piss onto the copper to give it that "special" patina. The owner ended up thrilled with the "look" but of course wasn't told how it was achieved.

    My advice to you is that if you like shiny brass, then polish it up. If you like a dull patina, then piss on it.

  9. #19
    Cameron Cornell
    Join Date
    Oct 2016
    Location
    Washington State
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    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Gales View Post
    My advice to you is that if you like shiny brass, then polish it up. If you like a dull patina, then piss on it.
    Best advice yet! I love the image of a fellow's wife walking into the shop and there he is urinating on his old brass lens.
    Last edited by Cameron Cornell; 15-Feb-2017 at 12:03.

  10. #20
    multi format
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    Feb 2001
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    local
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    Re: Brass Lens: to polish or not to polish?

    i believe it was the keno brothers who said " don't clean the desk, leave the dirt, we like the old dirt"

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