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making writing visible

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speelwerk29/01/2014 18:16:44
447 forum posts
2 photos

This is the 10x5cm sheet iron lid of a 1825 musical box, when you view it under the right light with magnifying you can just see  that the 3 tunes the box play are scratched on the lid. Does anyone has a simple method of making the writing more visible. Niko.


Edited By speelwerk on 29/01/2014 18:18:15

Speedy Builder529/01/2014 19:19:49
2654 forum posts
219 photos

I am sure someone with far more knowledge than I will reply, but you need to look at the lid under different wavelengths of light, like ultra violet, infrared etc. You may even see something by using a fine iron powder and a magnet but it would be very messy.


Michael Gilligan29/01/2014 19:20:45
20289 forum posts
1064 photos


If you flood it with Copper Sulphate solution, then [assuming the Iron is not too corroded or greasy] it will plate a thin layer of Copper. This should improve visibility, especially under Orange lighting.


Nicholas Farr29/01/2014 19:30:26
3425 forum posts
1592 photos

Hi, have you tried scanning it and using a software to alter brightness and contrast or playing around with colour tones etc.?

Regards Nick.

speelwerk30/01/2014 10:38:09
447 forum posts
2 photos

Thanks for the help given, I have tried UV but that does not make it better. Copper Sulphate perhaps, but preferably I do not want to damage the lid, scanning and playing around with contrast/colours I will certainly try. Niko.

John McNamara30/01/2014 11:10:16
1341 forum posts
127 photos

Hi Spellwerk

I would try putting a sheet of fine paper over the writing then using a pencil rub over the paper it may show up the writing if the impression of the scratch is deep enough. You may have to try different pencil hardness. Maybe a sharpish pencil will be better.

Alternatively rub the area of the writing on the box with Prussian blue artists colour then gently in one direction remove as much as possible with a rag.
Finally get a sheet of paper and rub firmly over the paper with a ball ended metal rubber. The idea is the colour will stay in the scratchings and again you may see the impression? You can clean the paint of with turpentine or most solvents. Don't forget to oil the box again if you don't want it to rust.


ega30/01/2014 11:10:19
2567 forum posts
203 photos

Have you tried "brass rubbing" ie laying a sheet of paper over the work and using pencil or other medium to try to pick up the scratch marks?

Ian S C30/01/2014 11:26:33
7468 forum posts
230 photos

You might find a friendly policeman who knows about this sort of thing, its almost in the realm of forensic science. Ian S C

John Shepherd30/01/2014 11:28:05
222 forum posts
7 photos


Do you wand to be able to read the inscriptions on a permanent basis or just read them and record them elsewhere?

If the former, filling the 'scratches' with a white wax crayon may help if they are deep enough. (works well on vintage electrical equipment dials).

a) a variable intensity light used at an oblique angle might help or
b) as mentioned, Photoshop manipulation, sometimes just converting to a negative image helps.

At the sound of it (no pun intended) I would not do anything that is permanent.



jason udall30/01/2014 12:23:45
2031 forum posts
41 photos
Graphite seems to respond to magnetic fields..... (although different so does phoyocopier toner..)..maybe a light dusting and magnet stuck to underside...will reveal( pun? ) all
Michael Cox 130/01/2014 12:58:27
551 forum posts
27 photos

Since the lid is dark and the writing is scratched in I would try dusting it with talcum powder and then gently wiping it off with a soft cloth. The white powder should remain in the scratches rendering them visible.


Ady130/01/2014 13:34:14
5180 forum posts
738 photos

When I cleaned up some collets and a marked lathe wheel with malt vinegar it made all sorts of writing appear

The gentle cleaning action removed dirt/rust etc making these things visible

Vinegar is a mild acid so rinse off afterwards if you take this route


I was dunking things for up to 24 hours

With Iron I would check it every hour to start with and use a soft cloth, not an abrasive pad


Edited By Ady1 on 30/01/2014 13:38:48

Edited By Ady1 on 30/01/2014 13:43:51

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