How to Determine if a Copper Décor Item Is Real Copper

How to Determine if a Copper Decor Item Is Real Copper

Copper decor is a great way to beautify your home. Copper is a timeless metal that fits in with almost any interior design, and copper decorative items are easy to add to your existing arrangement to beautify and enhance a room’s natural character.

Types of copper decor items you may add to a room may include:

  • Copper lighting fixtures
  • Copper mirrors
  • Copper cookware
  • Flasks and cups for your kitchen
  • Copper decorative hinges
  • Copper towel rings

Copper is a great way to create a comprehensive design theme for a kitchen or bathroom, but it works in almost any room in the house.

Real Copper vs. Fake Copper

But how do you know if you’re getting real copper? If you’re actually buying brass or copper-lined tin, you’re not only overpaying for your item, but you’re also getting an item that will not have the lasting effects that you buy copper for. Your item may corrode or rust and may look worn out over time, rather than developing a richer, natural-aged patina as a living finish copper item does. Here are some ways to know if you’re getting the real deal.

Identifying Real Copper: Look at Your Item

Here’s how to tell the difference between copper and brass. To distinguish copper from brass, which is an alloy of other metals, examine the color under good white light. Real copper should have a reddish-brown hue, like a penny. Brass items tend to have a yellowish tint. If your item is yellow, orange-yellow or even has elements of gray, you are probably dealing with brass.

Listen to Your Item

Strike your copper item against something and listen to the sound. Copper is a soft metal and should deliver a muted sound. Alloys are more likely to produce a clear, ringing bell-like sound.

Check the conductivity

If you have access to an ohmmeter, which measures electrical resistance, you can test your copper item’s conductivity. At room temperature, copper’s resistance is 1.7 x 10^-8 ohm-meters. You can be sure that your item isn’t pure copper if the resistance is much higher or lower than this.

Measure its density

Another scientific test you can run on the item is to measure its density. This may be a little tricky if you don’t know the item’s volume. If you do, you can device the item’s weight by its volume to get its density. Pure copper has a density of 8.92 grams per millimeter.

Look at the color

Finally, take a closer look at the item’s color. While its surface should give you some clues, you can find out more if you clean it first. Rub the item with a mix of salt and vinegar, then wait for the area that you’ve cleaned to oxidize. If it turns green, you can be pretty sure it’s copper.

Is copper magnetic?

Magnetism is another way to get some clues about your copper item. Is copper magnetic? Not under ordinary circumstances, although it does have some interesting effects around very strong magnets: these magnets may appear to levitate when you drop them onto a copper plate, or to slow down if you drop them through a copper coil. The interaction actually creates a small electrical current, and is the same principle used in mechanically-powered flashlights, such as the dyno torch or the shake flashlight. When the magnet passes by the copper, either by spinning or shaking it, the electrical current charges the battery and causes the bulb to light up.

Why does copper behave like this? Copper is actually diamagnetic, which means magnets repel it rather than attract it. Metals that are permanently magnetic, such as iron, are ferromagnetic.

So, no, your copper item won’t stick to the refrigerator. If you put a magnet on your metallic item and it sticks, then it’s most likely iron, steel, or some other ferromagnetic material.

How to identify copper pennies

Copper pennies are some of the easiest copper items to identify, so they’re a great starting point for testing your copper detective skills or for creating an easy science experiment for the kids. Pennies are made from one of two materials: pure copper, or zinc with a copper coating.

There are four ways to test for a copper penny:

  • First, look carefully at the penny’s color. Zinc pennies may have a spotty, uneven look, while copper pennies are more likely to appear orange or even chocolate.
  • Second, drop the penny onto the table and listen to the sound it makes. In this case, the copper penny should have a “ringing” sound, while the zinc penny will “clunk.”
  • Third, you can weigh the penny. You’ll need a precise scale that weighs in grams. The copper penny should weigh 3.11 grams, while the zinc penny weights 2.5 grams.
  • Finally, look at the date. If your penny was minted before 1982, it will be made of 95% copper and 5% zinc. Starting in 1982, pennies contained only 2.5% copper and 97.5% zinc. Pennies made in 1982 could be made of either of the two compositions.

Why did the U.S. Mint switch from copper to zinc pennies? Basically, they were concerned that the price of copper was so high that it would be more valuable for people to melt down the pennies and sell them as scrap metal — a practice that is illegal under U.S. law. So if you’re thinking of melting down copper pennies for profit, you might want to reconsider — unless it’s for art. The law makes an exeption for “educational, amusement, novelty, jewelry, and similar purposes.”

There’s one more reason to be aware of what your pennies are made of. The newer zinc pennies are toxic to dogs, while the older copper pennies are not. (This doesn’t mean that eating old pennies is good for them — just that it’s less likely to require emergency intervention!)

Why does it all matter?

Ultimately, does it really matter if your items are made out of copper or not? What are the situations in which you might need to identify an item’s material? One reason is if you’re purchasing antiques at a garage sale or estate sale. The authenticity of the item will help you get a fair price for it and care for it properly. This can also be a factor when searching for authentic handcrafted items.

Another is if you’ve inherited copper from a family member, especially if it’s cookware. Knowing whether or not the items are made with copper will help you determine if it’s safe to cook with or whether you should purchase modern copper pots instead. If your copper cookware is lined, you may also need to find out whether it’s lined with tin, silver, or another material.

Of course, some of these methods require time and tools, and you may not be able to perform all of these tests at the antique store or flea market. But by trying out these experiments at home first, you can get more familiar with copper and its alloys and become better at identifying it.

Buy Your Copper From a Reputable Source

One way to be sure you’re getting real copper is to buy your copper from a known name in the industry. CopperSmith sells the widest collection of real copper and real recycled copper products and has been a leading wholesaler and retailer of premium metal home products for years, so you know you can rely on us for quality copper sinks and other premium decor items. To learn more about CopperSmith’s beautiful copper items or to place an order, give us a call at 1-888-431-4677 or email us at You can also request more information by filling out our handy online contact form!

Absolutely beautiful product--everything I wanted and more!! - Tracy