Determine type of metal and conserving/cleaning - hard to learn?

I collect saint medals and now have, unfortunately, developed another collecting genre - old French award medals. I want to keep them all in good condition, especially the award medals (somehow I feel as though I have an obligation to do so that isn’t as strong with the saint medals.)

Anyway, the metal the French medals (well, and a few from other countries) are made of is fairly easy to determine - usually stamped into the side. Saint medals are another story.

Is it fairly easy for someone like me, with next to no experience, to learn how to tell various metals from one another, particularly silver from silver alloys or oxidized silver in order to clean items (the ones that *really *need it, that is) and preserve them? Or is there not much difference regardless?

Also, I’ve been reading up on bronze disease which has me scared shitless. Any sites or books that tell you definitively how to prevent, identify, and treat it? Various websites I’ve looked on disagree a bit, and I have no idea which is more credible than the others.

I also need to know how to clean bronze in general (not remove patina, though, just dirt/unaesthetic surface discoloration), since French medals do not come cheap and I can’t afford the spectacularly clean and well-preserved ones. I did my best to select ones that aren’t damaged or irreparably soiled, but like I said, I’m a complete amateur.

Any recommendations? I was thinking about contacting a local expert in metal conservation and having him or her look them all over and advise me. Is that likely to be a very expensive non-necessity?

Thank you very much.

I can’t be the *only *person on here who collects this sort of thing.

a conservator at a large art or natural history museum might be able to give you some advice and/or point you to useful references. I’ve been out of the field for so long I have no names to give you.

I am able to give this general preservation advice: store in acid-neutral containers. don’t “coat” the metal with anything. likewise don’t use any cleaners until advised by a conservator. Wear white cotton gloves when you handle the pieces. Store them in an environment where the temperature and relative humidity does not flucuate, but rather stays steady.

I’d strongly suggest getting some expert advice before doing anything. I was amazed at how “chemically fragile” most metals are, based on a glimpse at the challenges conservators meet on a regular basis.

I collect cold war medals, but those are still pretty common in good to decent condition so I haven’t needed to do any cleaning on them.

Thank you everyone!

How do I go about finding an expert/conservator? I live in central Maryland, if anyone has personal recommendations.

And how can I determine if someone really is an expert and will know what they’re talking about?

As I posted earlier I have no current contacts, but go to this website. (Smithsonian’s conservation institute) http://www.si.edu/mci/english/about_mci/services/index.html

I’d contact them if you don’t live near a major art or natural history museum