Cups and Balls

Cups and Balls Magic

Instant Patina Part 1

An Article By Bruce Smith

(Sung to the tune of Instant Karma by John Lennon)

Instant Patina gonna get you,
Gonna knock you off your feet,
Can you recognize the real thing,
With every Cup you meet...
Well we all go dull,
Like the coffee brown and a penny of old,
Yeah we all go dull,
Dull and dull and dull dull and dull.

Instant Patina Part 1

Yes I tried too hard with the Instant Karma reference, but when I think about Instant Patina, the Lennon song keeps popping into my head... bear with me, it won’t be the only weird thing that I write about before we are through.

Being an enthusiast that has the infliction (nice way of saying sickness) of being a Cup Collector and amassing a good size collection of Cups, I feel that part of the joy of having such (not understood by significant other) is just looking at all the Cups... wondering their histories, admiring their varying shapes and finishes.

You as the reader should understand this obsession; why else would you be reading this article on a website dedicated to Cups and Balls?

When first collecting Cups, I was probably split 50/50 as to liking Cups shiny or with that neat coffee brown patina that comes with age and use.

Now several years into collecting, I find that I really like a Cup with a brown patina... especially if they have pronounced or multiple shoulder rings or beads.

Examples of Cups with a natural patina due to use and handling (from working magicians and those I have turned)...

Magic INC “Charlie Miller” Cups

charlie miller cups patina

James Riser Mini Cups

james riser mini cups patina

RNT2 JES Squatty 2

RNT2 JES Squatty 2 patina

RNT2 Worker’s Chop Cup

RNT2 Workers Chop Cup Patina


There are some Cups that I can proudly claim have turned brown from my own use and others that I have purchased used with that glorious brown hue from working magicians, but what about those other shiny vessels that deserve to turn to brown?

The truth is I don’t perform enough that I can quickly have the Cups turn naturally; there are too many Cups and not enough time between family, work and hours in a day. There has to be a way that a normal guy can achieve this without a science degree or the use of harsh chemicals... isn’t there?

I have investigated many so called patina treatments offered through hobby shops and on-line suggestions... most turn pennies green, but nothing I would want to put on my Cups.

The best thing I have found so far that gives a somewhat faster than normal result (all things being relative), is to sleep with the Cups between my pajama shirt and stomach.

Using this method I can get an OK looking patina and have learned not to roll over during the night... the clink of the Cups tends to wake my wife.

Summer nights work best... I guess I have better copper turning properties during the hot months... I told you above that there were weird things to come. (Ed note: "No comment Bruce!")

Warning!!! Anything that you try on your Cups is your own decision... I am not responsible.

About a month or so over at the “Big Green” website, someone posted a link about using chemicals and house hold goods to turn copper brown... here is the link they provided...

It was suggested that “Palmolive” brand dish detergent has something in its ingredients that interacts with copper, brass and bronze that forms a patina.

Palmolive "Ultra"


On the first Saturday morning I had available to myself, I decided to run an experiment and see if what was posted would indeed work. I gathered up a recently polished set and another that was slightly brown from sitting on a shelf that I occasionally play with.

I applied the soap with warm water and worked it into the copper. To make a long story short, I was not that impressed with the results... I ended up with one set that was very clean and another that had its existing patina removed... not what was hoped for.

Disappointed with the results I cleaned each set with “Wright’s Copper Cream” to get them back to a neutral state, cleaned up my mess as not to **** off my wife (wet and dry paper towels everywhere and a sink full of bubbles) and put everything away. For the rest of the day I thought to myself well that was a waste of time and effort.

Several weeks later I found myself with nothing to do early on a Saturday morning and for some reason thought that I would try the process over again.  In the middle of experimenting on the first set of Cups, my youngest came into the kitchen wanting breakfast and if you have young children you know that they want it now.

I sat the soap covered Cup down and rinsed my hands off and proceeded to make her breakfast.  Once she was satisfied (cereal and honey toast), I returned to the Cups... to my amazement they were turning a splotchy brown.  I rubbed the remaining soap goo evenly into the Cup and a yellowish brown color began to evenly coat the Cups.

Being rather pleased... I rinsed the Cup off and shook off most of the water and patted it gently dry with a paper towel.

The copper was a tan like brown, a shade like a penny turning from shiny, before it becomes a rich brown.  I was again amazed by the brown on the Cup... this was the patina or the start of the process that I was hoping for the first time, now I just have to figure out what did I do different this time.

Part 2 to follow... I want to document with photos and refine the process for you. I promise that I will give you part 2 shortly. Until then here are some tease you photos of the results that I have... before and after photos.

RNT2 Mini Paul Fox Cups Pre Patina

RNT2 Mini Paul Fox Pre Patina

RNT2 Mini Paul Fox Cups Post  Patina

RNT2 Mini Paul Fox Post Patina

Gary Animal Babes Pre Patina

Gary Animal Babes Pre Patina

Gary Animal Babes Post Patina

Gary Animal Babes Post Patina

I do not have a before photo, but those familiar with this set of Cups know they were originally mirror polished then coated with a protective substance so they would never tarnish... I removed the coating and put them through the process...

Ireland cups

Ireland cups 2

Thanks Bruce! (Can't wait for part 2!)

© 2011 Bruce Smith / Cups and Balls Magic