Fingerprints and cartridges don't mix

Here is a prime example of fingerprint damage. Cartridges were handled and put back in the box. Time passes and… While experienced collectors are aware of the problem, newcomers may not be. Silly as it may sound, putting on gloves while working with your specimens really is worth it. No need to get fancy, just cheap cotton (Jersey) or vinyl gloves work fine. If you want to help preserve your cartridges AND not worry about donning gloves here is a tip. First, remove finger print oils and acids (before the damage occurs) by wiping each cartridge with a paper towel or cotton cloth and isopropyl alcohol, then set it aside to dry completely. Next, (and I wear vinyl gloves for so not to put on new fingerprints) wipe on a light coat of auto wax – yep. Just like waxing your vintage 1973 Pinto. After the wax dries, wipe with a soft cloth or paper towel – it may come away a bit dirty, but that’s OK, it’s just removing some of the oxidation. I wear cheap cotton gloves for that part. You may need a stiff bristle toothbrush to remove wax from cannelure, primer annulus and so on.
Just know that spots of corrosion – that green, crusty stuff – will NOT be stopped by this simple process. However, this will stop tarnish from forming. And, from this point they are protected from evil fingerprints an you can handle ‘em all you want.
A plus is that the wax can be easily removed, unlike lacquer, varnish or plastic coatings. You can get a conservator’s micro-crystalline wax which is meant for artifact conservation, but be ready for $7.00 - $8.00 per OUNCE. So, I use Mother’s Brazilian Carnauba (about $1.00 @ ounce).
Another point to be made is etiquette – when you open a box of cartridges belonging to someone else (collector or dealer), well… think about it… 😊


Thanks savage. Very helpful and useful information.

Some folks just have naturally acid skin oil & others don’t.
I have cartridges I’ve had for over 60 years and no sign of this.
Still a good idea to be aware of this.
This also happens to firearms, so it’s a good idea to wipe those down if someone else handles them.

From Wiki:
Sweat is found at moderately acidic to neutral pH levels, typically between 4.5 and 7.0
So test yourself on cheap ammo, just touch it and leave it for a couple of days. If you see fingerprints, collect plastic shotshells only.
Those fingerprints MAY belong to someone famous, like Jimmy Carter, and therefore up your ammo value into $$$$.

Vlad you’re hilarious! Thanks Bob for that great info. I have already started on a few key cartridges. Great advice thanks!

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You must mean Ronald Regan Vlad, he was a pro gun President

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What, I’m not famous? pH changes can occur with diet, stress, etc. and I’m on the low end, so caution is good. I think more naps and more bacon would take care of it :)


2 things:

Go to a real collector of edged weapons and try to touch a blade with your bare hands.
You will have a fair chance to be stabbed to death with this very blade then!

In the old days (in Germany) young guys applied for a formal training on professions like tool maker or precision mechanic and underwent the usual interview and some small tetsts on their manual skills.
When this was done and the applicant was about to leave they had a small tray with steel cubes of which all were freshly machined from all sides and never were touched with bare hands, after that they were professionally degreased. The applicant was then asked to take one of the cubes into his hands and some trivial question was asked for distraction. When the applicant had left the cube was carefully taken away (with gloves on) and set aside for 3 days.
When after 3 days his fingerprints had shown up on the bare steel (i.e. rust) the guy got a nice letter where the company was thanking him for his interest and they wished him well for his future (elsewhere).

And brass is about 10x more sensitive to corrosion than steel is.

And anything made of brass is not being touched by my visitors before they will wear gloves.

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i had the very bad lucky to get very acid skin oil
the way for the catridges:

common caliber (ex: 7.62x51 FMJ classic) i varnished these rounds but it a very difficult operation because i m very maniac but i like touch my rounds

rare item (ex:“christmas tree” 7.92) i wouldn’t varnish a rare item so the other solution is chirurgical gloves

colored part of a round :just be careful to no destroy the colors when i varnish


Don’t laugh, you’ll only encourage him…

I knew a guy who could lay a finger on a firearm and it would rust within HOURS if not wiped down immdately.
His diet was ALL spicy food, hot peppers and worse…

Gloves (especially latex/nitrile) also protect YOU from the hazards that come from handling the ammunition, especially with lead bullets. All those oxidized metals are not good for your health, and if hands are not washed before eating you can inject all that nasty stuff to.

Latex gloves are cheap at the discount warehouse stores (Sams, Costco etc) selling for about $15-20 for 400 gloves.

I likely knew his brother then. This guy could touch a stainless weapon and when not oiled right afterwards it had rust traces 1 week later.
I like hot food, pepper, chilli, spices, you name it - no such problem here! As stated above it is more the sweat, acid level and actual composition of the skin.

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I worked with a guy for a while that had an issue with perspiration or oils from his palms, it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. It would attack the material and rot the covering from a vehicle steering wheel in a matter of weeks. He wore leather gloves most of the time, and would replace those very frequently as they were destroyed. He wasn’t a shooter and I never thought to ask, but I wouldn’t have let him touch a weapon of mine.

Save those little silica gel (desiccant) packets that come with electronics, optics, etc. Toss a couple in [whatever] you keep your collection. Won’t cure fingerprint problems, but sure helps keep the moisture away. They are free and reusable. Caution, though - with paper, textile and such, too dry is not better. It can result in them becoming brittle ; won’t mold or rot, but may fall apart! That, too, depends on the environment - Southeastern U.S. is much different than my neck o’ the woods (semi-arid) where atmospheric humidity is rarely an issue. So, for storing old catalogs, advertising, etc. 30 - 40% RH at room temperature is a good target. Metallic cartridges; drier the better.
Here are some helpful sites:

I have a few PDFs dealing with conservation of firearms, copper (brass) and paper. If you would like them, drop me an email and I’ll send an attachment.

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