Brass is a metal alloy. In layman’s terms, that means brass is a mixture of metals. Copper, like gold, silver, and tin, is rather soft on its own. Combining copper with another metal, specifically zinc, creates brass, which is harder than pure iron. Not only is brass harder than either pure copper or pure iron, but it stands up to harsh weather conditions better than iron. Up until the eighteenth century, working with zinc was difficult because it boils at a lower temperature than the temperature required for smelting. Nonetheless, some ancient civilizations figured out ways to make brass, such as melting copper with calamine ore, which contained zinc. At high temperatures, the zinc in the calamine ore vaporized, infusing the copper and creating brass.
In This Article
Where Can You Find Brass?
Brass has been around for a long time, so you’ll find it in all sorts of places. Today, lots of common items are made with brass, some of these are:
- Shell casings
- Musical instruments (it has great acoustic properties)
Outside of its practical functions, brass is sometimes used solely because of its bright, attractive appearance for buttons, light fixtures, doorknobs, sculptures, and other decorative artworks.
You can also find brass in many antique items. Generally speaking, antique brass refers to items at least 100 years old. eBay offers an extensive reference guide for antique brass, which is a valuable resource for sellers or buyers. Popular antique brass items include:
- Candle holders
- Figurines and statues
- Platters and trays
- Nautical equipment
- Fireplace accessories
- Clocks and pocket watches
How to Identify Brass
Brass is usually yellow, and might be labeled as brass, bronze (this would be mis-labeled — bronze and brass aren’t the same), or copper alloy. While all brass is a mixture of copper and zinc, many types contain smaller amounts of additional metals. Copper gives brass a red color, while zinc makes it yellow. So if your brass is yellow, it has more zinc — probably between 20% and 40%. The more zinc in the brass, the yellower the color; the more copper, the redder.
All brass is non-magnetic, so if a magnet sticks to it, its not brass! Clocks, electrical terminals, and ammunition all require a metal that’s non-magnetic, so you’ll often find brass used for these applications.
Commonly, you’ll hear brass referred to by its color. Here are some of the most common brass alloys, and what the color terms refer to. Metal percentages are approximate.
- Yellow brass: Includes 70/30 brass, cartridge brass, UNS Alloy C26000, and more. These yellow-colored-brasses usually contain 30-40% zinc and 60-70% copper. They’re the most common.
- Red Brass: Includes C23000, gunmetal, and more. These are alloys with more than 85% copper, giving them a red color. They sometimes include tin and lead in addition to copper and zinc.
- Free cutting brass / Alloy C-360: A leaded type of yellow brass, and the most common type of yellow brass.
- Naval brass: Brasses alloyed from copper, zinc, and a small amount of tin, used primarily for boats and other tools that will be exposed to water. The tin helps prevent corrosion in water. Usually a yellow brass.
- High tensile brass / high strength yellow brass: Another yellow brass, which contains around 70% copper, 29% zinc, and 1% manganese, aluminum, or iron. The manganese, aluminum, or iron strengthens the brass, making it useful for items that undergo a lot of pressure. Brass with manganese is used to make dollar coins in the U.S.
Some items that look like brass aren’t solid, but are actually just plated with a thin layer of brass on the outside for appearances’ sake. It’s important to identify it your item isn’t solid brass, because solid brass items are worth much more than brass plated items. A magnet will not adhere to an item made of solid brass, while it will adhere to brass plate (assuming the metal underneath is magnetic). Another means for identifying brass plate is scratching the object. A shiny yellow scratch usually means the item is solid brass, whereas a silvery scratch means it is made of some other metal beneath the plate.
How Much Is Brass Worth?
As a Scrap Metal
Several factors affect brass prices, including the world economic market. Because copper is such a large component of brass, changes in copper prices affect the price of brass. In the past 10 years, copper reached its lowest price ($1.27) in December 2008 and its highest price ($4.57) in January 2011.
Another consideration in determining the price of brass is the quality and purity of the metal. The vast majority of brass sold in the U.S. is recycled brass, but there are always concerns about inadvertent contamination of scrap brass with other metals such as steel, tin, and iron. Contamination can affect both the machineability (the ease with which material can be cut) and strength of brass.
Here are September 2017 brass prices (sourced from Scrap Register, according to Midwest price indices):
- Yellow Brass: $1.74 per pound, $0.11 per ounce, $3,480 per ton
- Mix Red Brass: $1.81 per pound, $0.11 per ounce, $3,620 per ton
- Mix Yellow Brass Borings: $1.59 per pound, $0.10 per ounce, $3,180 per ton
- Brass Radiator: $1.57 per pound, $0.10 per ounce, $3,140 per ton
- Iron Brass Radiator: $1.18 per pound, $0.07 per ounce, $2,360 per ton
Brass is a mid-level commodity at metal scrap yards: it’s worth more than aluminum or steel, but less than copper. To get the best price for your brass scrap, make sure its clean before you take it to the scrap yard. If possible pre-sort it by type.
Brass prices can vary daily, even at local scrap yards. Comparing prices at local yards requires a phone call or two, or, if it’s posted, checking out the rates on the scrapyards’ website. Use the iScrapapp scrap yard directory to find local scrap yards, reported prices, and contact info.
Besides some side income, selling your brass for scrap is also a great way to reuse and recycle brass. Recycling brass is a win-win — you get some side income, its good for the environment because it means there’s less need to mine, and it means cheaper prices for consumers buying brass products.
As an Item
Sometimes the value of an object depends less upon the metal used to make it and more upon design features and artistic value. If your brass item is in good condition, it might be worth more sold for what it is than scrapped. Check sites like eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist for similar items so that you can estimate what yours is worth.
Antique brass items are even more valuable. Depending on the rarity and condition of the item, antique brass can demand substantial prices that far exceed those for scrap. However, be wary of items that just look old. Telltale signs of fake antique brass items include:
- Statues attached to a base
- Metal tags and plates.
- Signatures of unknown artists or deliberately unreadable signatures
- Powder-like debris or dried paste in recessed areas
Any of these may indicate that a would-be antique is actually rather new, and far less valuable than the legitimate item.
Where to Sell Brass
Most scrapyards will gladly pay for brass, though they’ll prefer receiving large or bulk lots of metal instead of a few small pieces. Metals in bulk are more valuable to scrap yards because they can get more money per pound than with smaller, individual pieces.
Payment procedures for scrap brass may vary from state to state. In most states, you’ll be paid by check or a money order, not cash, for brass (and for all other non-ferrous metals). Many states require that the scrap yard ask you to see an ID, and some states may implement a holding period of two days or more after the sale is made before issuing payment. The delay is part of an effort to reduce the sale of stolen items. As with any transaction, ask the buyer questions and make sure you understand the process so you have a clear expectation of how the sale will work. Check your state’s scrap metal laws ahead of time so you’re prepared.
If selling to a scrapyard doesn’t appeal to you, or if you don’t have one near your town, there are other options for selling brass. You can find local metal or antique collectors who’ll be interested in your items. Try sites like eBay, Craigslist, and local Facebook buy and sell groups to find local buyers. Keep shipping costs in mind if you choose to sell somewhere that’s not local — brass is heavy, so shipping can get pricey.
Depending on form, age, and condition, the value of brass per pound is typically worth more than aluminum or steel, but less than pure copper. Solid brass is worth significantly more than brass plate. Before you sell your brass items for scrap, make sure you’re not letting go of a valuable antique that could be worth much more. Scrap brass prices pale in comparison to the value of many brass antiques. Prices for brass fluctuate daily, so it’s hard to say just how much the brass in your garage or attic is worth — but with a little research and the resources in this article, there’s plenty of opportunity to make some money with your old brass items.