1844 Vail Lever Correspondent
Tom French, W1IMQ
The satin finish on the reproduction Vail key is something like a brass colored powdery coating. It looks artificial, and detracts from the otherwise fine reproduction hardware.
Noted key collector Tom Perera, W1TP, disassembled one of these replicas, and removed the finish from all of the parts (including the coating on the pivot bolt and the leaf spring). He used a steel wire wheel running at a low speed (he estimated 600 RPM).
While the natural brass does look much better, W1TP adds a reminder: "Although most collectors agree that wire brushing a telegraph key is a terrible thing to do to a key, in this case it served to remove the false finish and roughen up the metal so that it looked like the hand shaped original." And I would add that letting a patina form on the brass over time will probably improve the look even more.
This inspired me to try it, but I went a step further and "distressed" the wooden base. I also used acetic acid (vinegar) to dull the shiny brass. I think using copper sulfate would result in an even more interesting patina.
Here is a photo of the original, followed by W1TP's "after" photo, followed by a photo of my attempt:
The key in it's "new" condition:
My after (in foreground; original in background):
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