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Removing paint on a helmet without damaging the japanning


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I bought this Staffordshire Yeomanry helmet a while ago on ebay at a good price. It's in excellent condition, except that when I cleaned it up what looked like tarnished white fittings (which would be correct) came up looking like brass. They are not, however, as the back of the helmet plate and the decorative band under the rosettes is white metal. It therefore seems to have been painted but it must have been done exceptionally well as there's no sign of paint on the helmet around the intricate decorative bands which are riveted on, and couldn't have been taken off for painting. I know there are a variety of products which will strip the 'brass' paint, particularly if used with ultra fine steel wool, and I'm wondering about taking the fittings back to the white metal.However, whilst I can remove most of the elements to to do this, I would have to do the decorative bands and peak trim in situ and I'm concerned that anything I do, even very carefully, may also damage the japanning, which I understand is oven heated paint. Can anybody comment or advise?

Better still, does anybody know a legitimate reason why the fittings on a Staffs helmet should have been changed in this way?

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Thanks

Patrick

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Patrick

A question first: does the central boss on the plate, with the Staffs knot, look as if it is detachable and, if so, might it be a substitute?

Secondly, I would be very very leery of trying to 'strip' the brass. I would strongly suspect that the brass is either solid brass or brass plate, not paint. In that case, you wouldn't be able to strip it off and may very well irreparably damage what I suspect is a very expensive helmet. Instead, I'd pursue how/why this helmet has brass and not white metal fittings. Perhaps the Staffs regmt'l museum can help in that regard.

I also suspect that our resident experts on headgear - published experts in the field - may have some useful insights when they see your post.

Peter

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Peter

Thanks for your comments. My instinct is not to mess with it, but I'm just testing the art of the possible.

The metal certainly isn't solid brass because, as I mentioned, the back of the plate (which is one piece) is white metal and the metal on the band when the rosettes are removed is white (see not very good photo). This latter point makes me wonder about your idea about brass-plating , I don't know anything about the technique, but why would the metal under the rosette be left un-plated? The same question arises, of course, if it has been painted -why not remove the rosettes and do the job properly? It does, however, look much more like plating than paint, so I think you're on the right lines.

I'll follow up your idea re the museum. David Rowe told me once that Yeomanry helmets can sometimes vary from the 'standard' , according to the whims of the C.O. but I've looked at all my reference books, including his, and I can't find any reference to brass fittings. I've also tried emailing him as he has been very good with advice in the past, but haven't heard anything back as yet. If anybody can cast any light on the question, I'd be very pleased .

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Patrick

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I know very little about electroplating metal either, except that the piece is immersed in a solution and has current run through it, which I would have thought would plate the whole surface, but I could very easily be wrong on that too. I agree that its worth checking with the regimental historians, if possible, for 'off make' kit. It's certainly the case that many Yeomanry units - essentially privately raised, at least in some periods - played fast and loose with the regulations. Possibly even a single officer or trooper with more money than brains!

Do keep us posted on what you find out.

Peter

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The museum couldn't throw any light on this,other than to speculate that some cleaning process had been used in the past which had altered the white metal. Seems unlikely to me,but.....

Patrick

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It is difficult to see from photographs but one of two things is happening here. Either as you say the white metal has been painted with a gold type paint which has only been done superficially to the exposed parts or the reverse has happened and through the application of polish the base metal (which is brass) has been exposed by polishing off the white metal which was originally plated on to the brass.

If it is the former i.e. gold paint on to white metal then in theory you could strip it off, but it is likely to cause damage to the helmet surface unless it is done very painstakingly and carefully and you are not guaranteed on what the final finish would be like.

If it is the latter (which I suspect is the case) and the base (brass) metal has been exposed by over polishing, the only way to treat it would be by electroplating and that would require removal of all the fitments from the helmet.

I personally would leave it as is....

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I agree with Nick. A maxim in the museum business, applied to artifacts, is "NEVER [never never] do ANYTHING to an artifact which cannot be undone again without any further damage to the object." I believe that would rule out both paint stripping and re-plating, and while a private collection is not necessarily a museum, I believe the maxim is a good one in this case as well. After all, the state it is now in is part of the history of the object, however arrived at, and in no way disfigures the object aesthetically.

My tuppence worth!

Peter

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