Cleaning & restoring for a collection

I write a cartridge collecting column for our Gem State Arms Collectors Association newsletter and thought a useful theme might be on “Cleaning your collection.” I know there are many differing views (opinions) on cleaning cartridges ranging from “don’t touch it” to “polish it pretty” (ouch!) While I can use the info in the Reference section as a great source (with a lot of condensing - or maybe 2 -3 installments) I wanted to add the personal aspect and see what the consensus was out among the troops. Also, if you have a recommended method, not noted on this site, I would like to hear that, too. Thanks, Bob

My “rule of thumb” is if your planing on selling it or trading it, don’t do anything to it. Have purchased a few cartridges where the lighting wasn’t the best and got stung because I couldn’t read the head stamp. Lessons learned.

Thanks, that makes a good point. The end buyer gets to decide.

Also depends on the reason of the cartridge “damage”. If it is just to look pretty dont do it, but if it is to prevent the degradation of the round, do it! A cleaned cartridge is better than a self destroyed cartridge.

Also, if you purchase a highly polished cartridge and don’t want it that way, place it in an old wooden box free of any acids and leave it in your garage over the winter. Mother nature will dull the metal very quickly.

If the cartridge has exposed lead, don’t keep it in an oak box, as oak in particular is a wood that will oxidise the lead.

Apparently so will MDF (due to the formaldehyde), and PVA wood adhesive.

See this article:

Thanks, that was enlightening. Know of lots of folks who store their collection in wood cabinets, drawers, etc.

To expand on what tanegashimatomurata said, wood cabinets for storage “can” be very hazardous to your collection, much more so than people realise I think. Wood (and certain types are far worse than others) give of acetic acid, oak being one of the worst. Also as the moisture level increases in the wood the problem becomes worse so new wood should certainly be avoided, as should damp or humid conditions. So if wood is used it certainly should be old well seasoned wood, preferably varnished on the storage side only, this allows the wood to breath away for the metal/paper of the collection.

The production of acetic acid is believed to result from a process of slow hydrolysis of combined acetyl groups present in hemicelluloses. In support of this, the amounts of acetic acid produced by several timbers are balanced with reasonable accuracy by the losses of combined acetyl groups.

The rate at which acetic acid is liberated depends on the chemical constitution of the wood from which it is derived. This varies with species and largely accounts for the considerable differences in rates of production of acetic acid between timbers. The proportion of acetyl groups capable of liberating acetic acid is higher in hardwoods than in softwoods. In practice, kiln dried wood is much more likely to cause corrosion than air dried wood.

Most metals are attacked by acetic acid, which can cause corrosion at concentrations as low as 0.5 ppm in air. Serious damage can occur through long-term storage, especially in damp conditions. Lead objects can be rapidly destroyed by being stored in cases made of wood, the lead being converted into lead carbonate. Zinc and bronze are also affected but not as strongly as lead.

Another thing to be very careful of is storing on cardboard, I have a friend who stored his collection on corrugated cardboard to stop them rolling about and hold them in position, some 18 months later he found that in some draws they had started to show quite heavy marking from acid/s used in the manufacture of the cardboard. So if this is used ensure that it is acid free…

I have changed my storage to all metallic units now, apart from the display cabinets which are wood (mahogany) and are well polished (bees wax) on the surface where the items sit. All the collection sit on baize material but there are many materials that can be used.

Acknowledgement; The wood facts are figures taken from the Victoria and Albert museum where there was a very good article done back in the 1990’s of the preservation of articles being stored, if you are really interested this is well worth reading.


Getting great information and would like to hear more. I’ve often wondered about cardboard, but still have some stored that way. Have gone more with plastic trays, etc. But it’s possible that plastic may have draw backs. Some plastic boxes with lids can seal too tight, trapping humidity, so that is a consideration (allow venting or use silica gel pacs).

This has topic been covered in numerous posts.

I’d suggest you do a search as I know others plus myself have written our thoughts on this important subject in back posts.

I believe it is also covered here under the Reference heading at the top of the page.

What are your thoughts on storing in Riker style cases ( hard cardboard box’s with glass lids and plastic trays) like used for jewelry?

How about ? Part of my collection:

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Yes, thanks. I have checked out the Reference, as I noted. What I am looking for is personal input so to provide an area of discussion, rather than a “How To…” article.

IMy opinion on Riker cases is good. We use them extensively for artifact storage/display. (My background is in anthropology/archaeology and education). The cardboard and the filler are both acid free.

Are all “Riker cases” the same, such as the ones commonly seen at antique malls and the like, or are only specific “Riker brand” cases from museum specialty supply companies acid free, or reasonably close?

I am really only familiar with the cardboard (paperboard) variety. Wooden or plastic framed could be suspect, unless stated otherwise. Even with cardboard I add a layer of acid fee paper or tissue paper. Truth is, glass (and some acrylics) are the only really inert materials.

Nice! The dividers in your cases - where did you get those? One time, long, long ago, Jim Tillinghast offered molded trays similar to those. They were VOC free and safe for cartridges.

I make them myself. padding is a manchester fabric
Almost complete collection:

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I’m a “Johnny-come-lately” on this thread. A comment and a question:

On savage’s original question, I am always concerned about the consequences of cleaning. Many factors enter into this, resale (which has been mentioned), historic qualities, rarity, and value. The rule I follow personally is to remove any surface debris that does not damage the cartridge surface itself. If I cannot do that, I leave the cartridge as is.

The surface contamination I will remove includes permanent marker and inked data put there by others and dirt. I won’t “polish,” change the color of the cartridge components, or remove organic material likely to have caused underlying damage to lead, copper, or brass, as the case may be.

I hope this may be somewhat helpful, and of course I invite comments.

My question relates to the subsequent posts here, specifically on materials used to house collections. Are there any downsides for long term storage in zip-lock type polyethylene bags in an environment where humidity is quite low and stable?

This is what I’m looking for. I can present opinions, idea, etc. to our GSAC members and (hopefully) get them more involved with the game.
As far as ‘plastic’ bags. As long as moisture is not a concern I have not witnessed ill effects on metallic cartridges. However, for paper items such as; boxes, advertising, or textiles; linen etc. - stay away from conventional plastics. Archival quality clear sheets are available at most major hobby stores and make for the best long term storage or wrapping. Acid free tissue paper is also out there and offers good medium-term protection (like if you are in and out of things) but is not very durable. Cellophane seems OK for short term, such as display, but probably not for long term storage. Oxygen, water vapor and some VOCs are the big culprits.