Cleaning Old Plates/Logos

The Envelope company I work for is celebrating 125 years of continuous operation today - still owned by the original family. In our preparations for this anniversary, we have come across a phenomenal amount of artifacts dating back to 1886. We have 10 typecases completely full of logos that were used from 1886, to at least the 1950’s. A few are wood, most are brass, a few copper, as well as many are other metals. They are mainly affixed to either wood blocks or lead. Some of the logos were originally photographs, but most were derived from artwork. It is a fascinating trip through time. Can anyone give me advice on how to clean these up? I’ve gently used a very mild woodworking scotchbright pad on some logos, and it cleans the metal and brass plates up nicely. I don’t want to tackle the photos with something that aggressive. Also, anything wrong with putting a coat of paste wax on these after they are cleaned up? Input is appreciated!

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for the brass and copper plates they used to make an engravers rubbing stone that was like a hard eraser, it cleaned these well, i don’t know what to clean the photographs with, they scratch easily, if your not going to print with them try inking them with a hand brayer, this sometimes makes them look better. someone told me if you can’t find the rubbing stone that you can go to a hobby store and buy the rubber eraser that hobbyists clean their model train tracks with. Dick G.

For the photographs- if you mean photoetched halftone plates, I’d reccomend BRASSO, or possibly emery cloth in 100 or 120 grade. This should be fine enough not to abrade the surface too much but should take oxidation off, it all you want to do is brighten it up.

It’s also possible Putz Pomade would work.

Also, I’ve had really, really good results with TOOTHPASTE. FLOURIDE TOOTHPASTE and a GENTLE toothbrush, the softest kind you can get. This will de-oxidize the metal and put a soft sheen on it.
My father and grandfather were both jewelers, and my dad always said I should use toothpaste and a brush on heirloom stuff because it’s less abrasive than real polish is.

Helimited, great idea with the tooth paste, never heard of that before, as i get older with fewer teeth to brush i know what i’m doing with my tooth paste, halftone plates never seem to come clean i think your idea is great. Dick G.

Dick- as always, advice is free- lesson’s cost money. Happy to dispense knowledge, whatever small bits of it I may have that you may not.

Putz pomade is actually like jeweller’s rouge.
Cleaning plates can be done with any solvent and a plate brush, which is like a type brush, but the inner bristles are fine brass wire. It is just as important to clean the sides below the image as the surface. Using a finishing rubber may not be necessary unless you have corrosion on the surface. At any rate a fine brass brush can still be bought (try a suede brush) but finishing rubbers don’t seem to be made now.
Paste wax may be a good preservative, but the best for long-term storage would be asphaltum.

Stringandbutton - Heed dickg’s advice: they scratch easily. I would avoid any kind of abrasive or metal bristle contact.

A friend gave me a few old photo plates a few months ago. My mentor, John Horn, showed me a good way to clean them.

First, a light cleaning with a hog’s hair bristle brush. You know the kind. It’s the one you use to get dust and old ink out of your type. Next, dab some type wash on the metal. Next step, use the hair bristle brush to clean the plate.

Sometimes, we had to repeat the typewash/brushing technique. I like helimited’s toothbrush idea.

Anyway, when I try a new method to clean something, I do it in a small corner. If I don’t like the results, I have the rest of the item unaffected.

Nobody to the best of my knowledge has posted before-and-after photos of a plate cleaning. You should be first! It will help the newbies who come along. Just a thought.

“Putz pomade is actually like jeweller’s rouge.”

And as such would polish the face of the plates without really over-abrading them.

I am telling you guys, toothpaste will absolutely get all the oxidation off.
But, I think the idea of using “a hog’s hair bristle brush.” and “some type wash” first would be a good idea, to try and remove some ink and any leftover grease that the toothpaste may not break down.

You will, however, have to wash the toothpaste off afterwards, in some water. If you’re not okay with getting the plates/blocks wet, you might want to think that over.

Thanks very much for all the input - very helpful! I’ll go with the mildest approach suggested, and work up from there as needed. I tried simple soap and water and my fingers on a beautiful Eckerd’s Prescription halftone plate, and it cleaned up remarkably well. I’ll post pictures of before and after results over the next few weeks. Thanks again for the prompt helpful advice.

You can use a fiberglass brush that is used to clean and remove imperfections from Foil dies.
I beleive API foils sells them. If not ask your local photoengraver.

J archibald is correct, start with a type brush and some type wash.

We use this method for all vintage photoengravings supplied by customers (year book pictures and such)

Good Luck