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Collecting Old Copper - Does Older Mean Better

Updated on September 8, 2015

Is older better?

There are some who feel that if an object isn't twenty or fifty years old, it must be worth a dime a dozen. Then there is the other side of the fence that believes if a product isn't the latest and newest, it's not worth a hill of beans. So which side is right?

The answer to that question isn't as black and white as people think. The truth actually lies somewhere in between. Just because something is older doesn't mean it has no worth. Sometimes, depending on the item, its popularity and its age, you might find it has increased in value

We all know that once you drive a new car off the dealer's lot it decreases in value, yet there are certain cars that manage to retain their value, and as they get older, their value increases.

Confused yet?

It really is difficult to tell if something is going to increase in value the older it gets. Just look at the stock exchange if you don't believe me. However, one item that manages to keep its value and generally maintains an increase over time is precious metal.

Platinum, gold, silver, and copper are the most recognisable precious metals, (there are many more than I have listed here,) and these have been, and are still, used mainly for currency, jewellery and art.


Although copper is very under-rated as far as currency goes, it has a unique quality that no other metal can beat that makes it highly sought after. Copper has almost twice the conductivity of aluminum, twenty five times that of stainless steel, and fives times that of cast iron. For years it was used exclusively in electrical wiring, (I'm not sure if they have found anything that works better,) and good quality cookware.

Manufacturers have been searching for years for a better material to make pots and pans, without success. Yes, stainless steel is good, so is cast iron, and don't forget corningware - but the fact remains - copper reigns supreme!

Beautiful and functional

Once people realized how beautiful and functional copper was, they decided everything could be made with copper...and they went a little overboard...

Take a wander down the aisles of your local thrift store and check out how many items (that nobody wants,) are made with copper. Having already done that for several years, I can tell you - too many! Dozens of different salt and pepper shakers, kitchen items, knick knacks, jewellery, pictures - yes, pictures, toiletry items, the list goes on!

Most of these items are not worth a lot of money - not even to a collector - unless they were made twenty to fifty years ago. Right now I would like to direct your attention to the first picture at the top of this article. The molds that you see were all manufactured by a metal working company called Tagus, in Portugal.

The prices for these molds vary depending on their quality and age. The older the piece, the more money it is worth. However, I'm not talking hundreds of dollars here. Each one of those molds might only be worth fifteen to twenty dollars a piece, again, depending on their quality.

Dull versus shiny

Now it starts getting more complicated. Most people think that because a piece is discolored and has a dull, dingy cast to it, it is not worth as much as the bright, shiny, new piece. That assumption would be incorrect. Some of the most expensive items I have seen have a greenish cast around the edges - called patina - and a dark, dull color.

Many collectors look for pieces like those and won't pay any attention to the bright shiny penny look of a newer or polished piece. Then there are other collectors who will spend the time, and believe me, it takes a lot of time and effort, to polish those dull, neglected items. As you can see by the photographs, the result can be remarkable.

Quality vs. quantity

Anyone who collects generally has a wealth of 'commonplace' articles in their collection, or in other terms, articles that were produced in bulk quantities and might have a lower value as a result. This doesn't make them less appealing to many collectors, as their primary goal might be to have the largest or most extensive collection available, or possibly just love collecting!

However, there are some collectors who look for rare or one-of-a-kind articles to add to their collections. In these cases, quality takes precident over quantity.

To polish or not to polish

For the collector who is looking for that rare, no-longer-manufactured piece, value and colour can factor into their decisions. While many people think that simply polishing an older piece will improve the value, there are certain aspects that might jeopardize it.

If you don't have a buffer, it might be best to leave the polishing to the experts. There are many home recipes for cleaning and polishing copper, and for many pieces, these work 'the bomb'. But when it comes to a rare or vintage piece, you don't want your finished product looking spotty as this will detract from the value. For times like this, you need to have the item professionally polished.

As a quck note, there are some collectors who refuse to even look at an item if it doesn't have a patina, so I would save the polishing for pieces that you intend on keeping.


I'm not sure my explanations have cleared up the question 'is older better', or just muddied the waters even more. Most of these conclusions are based on simple things such as what people are looking for, buyers market, sellers market, availability, experience and prices. However, my personal opinion is, 'yes - older is better' for certain things!

You can't apply this pronouncement to every situation, but when it comes to collecting, whether it is copper, toys, china or sprockets - the older, the better!


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    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 5 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Me too...sometimes the makers stamps can help with that, but I have a ton without stamps - so not much help there! Sometimes you can tell by how the piece was made, ie dovetailing, welds etc., but most times it's a best guess :)

    • profile image

      cindy 5 years ago

      I love the old looling copper. have several pieces would love to know how to tell what age they are.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      You don't need to be a collector to enjoy copper :) I admit I love the shiny pieces too!

    • EllenGraeger profile image

      EllenGraeger 8 years ago from Madrid

      I'm no collector, I love the shiny copper. Thanks for this hub, Enelle.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thank you sheila b. I appreciate the compliment! Some pieces you can polish with no worries, and others should be left alone or professionally done to preserve the value.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 8 years ago

      You gave as good an answer as there is, and I was interested to learn it's not always wise to polish my copper.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Thanks Peggy, I love having you come and comment :D You are right about the furniture, I hadn't thought of it when I was writing this, but as soon as you mentioned it I remembered! LOL Thanks for the reminder my dear ;)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This was interesting regarding old copper. The same goes for furniture. Often refinishing can help detract from its value if the patina is destroyed in the process. Always enjoy reading your hubs!

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Hi RedElf, you are most welcome - I just hope I didn't confuse you LOL...depending on the piece, polishing can add to its appeal, but collectors are a funny lot LOL...

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      Great hub, Enelle - I have always wondered if polishing a piece will hurt or help its value. You certainly have some beautiful pieces. Thanks for this!