How to Tell Brass from Copper: Know 6 Properties for Distinguishing

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In the world of metals, brass and copper can be mistaken for being identical twins. On the surface, they seem to share the same color, the same weight, and the same shine. Both are also present in everyday objects that it’d be hard to tell which is which. It actually doesn’t matter unless you have a specific purpose for distinguishing these two.

For those in the metal business or even treasure hunters, distinguishing these two matters a lot.

Copper in its pure form has garnered some good values in the market as it shares the same properties as gold and silver. It’s also a great electricity conductor so the demand is higher for this item as well.

Brass on the other hand has an ornamental value and is used in everyday items. If you’re out to collect copper or brass items, it would be good know its properties so it will be easy to distinguish later on.

Check out the tips below on how to tell brass from copper.

Properties of Copper and Brass

Copper is a pure element that shares similar characteristics with gold and silver.

It is highly malleable and can bend easily to form different items. Copper is reddish in color and ages with green tinges on it as it oxidizes. Some perfect examples of copper are the Lincoln Memorial pennies dated before 1982. These contain 95% copper and so some people have started to hoard these as a form of investment.

Brass on the other hand is an alloy, meaning it is a combination of two or more metals. The reason why it resembles copper so much is because it’s actually part copper.

Brass is typically a combination of copper and zinc or manganese. It is very hard unlike copper but can break if struck with a metal harder than it.

It has a yellowish tinge on it and as it ages, it shows black or brownish marks. Brass is great for making items like musical instruments or furniture.

Actually, antique brass has been fetching some pretty good value in the market as well.

Comparing Copper and Brass

Copper and brass may look alike on the outside, but further scrutiny will tell you another side of the story.

Aside from copper’s malleability and brass’ toughness, they differ in terms of responding to magnetic force. Copper is inherently non magnetic while brass can exhibit slight attraction to a very strong magnet.

Aside from that, brass usually has a C number code engraved somewhere in the item while copper has no such sign whatsoever.

Copper and brass also differ in purpose. Copper is used in transmitting electricity as it conducts electricity really well. This comes in the existence of copper wires.

Brass on the other hand is used more for home fixtures and furniture like doorknobs and wall brackets. This is because brass is tough and strong.

Below is a chart showing the main differences of copper and brass:



soft and malleable

hard and breakable

reddish color

yellowish color

ages with greenish stains

ages with brownish stains


slightly magnetic

no codes

has codes (C###)

used to conduct electricity

used for decorative purposes

Distinguishing Copper from Brass

Given the distinct properties of these two, it is now easier to scrutinize copper from brass items.

The following video will give you some idea of how to go about telling brass from copper:​


  • Start your inspection by checking the color. Copper is reddish brown while brass is yellowish brown.
  • Find the code. Check if the item has a code engraved with a letter “C” followed by a three or five digit number. If you do, the item is brass. If not, it could be copper.
  • For aging items, check if the wear and tear shows green streaks or tinges. If it does, it may be copper.
  • Test for sound. Strike the item lightly. If it produces a deep and low sound, the item may be copper. If it produces a high-pitched sound, it is most likely brass.
  • Most decorative items are made of brass and not copper.

Now that you’ve figured out some techniques, it would be good to keep trying so you can gain valuable personal experience from identifying which is brass and which is copper. For cases where copper and brass need further study, the assistance of an expert may be needed in order to conduct chemical testing.


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