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Pewter Spoons and Their Making

Pewter spoons were important items in the American home for nearly two hundred years. Wills probated only twenty years after the first colonist landed in Massachusetts listed pewter spoons. Toward the close of the seventeeth century, a sizable quantity was. being imported from England and there were also a number of pewterers working in America, all of whom presumably made spoons along with other household articles in this alloy.

The earliest known piece of marked American pewter is a spoon. It was dug up some years ago at Jamestown, Virginia, and bears on its handle the name of Joseph Copeland of Chuckatuck and the date, 1677. Copeland was a London-trained pewterer who apparently migrated to Virginia shortly after he had served his apprenticeship. He may or may not have made anything besides spoons. Household pewter was made for common use and, though quantities were produced, comparatively few pieces made before the nineteenth century have survived. This is especially true of spoons. In fact, what saved the Copeland for twentieth-century eyes was probably its accidental interment.

Pewter followed the styles of silver but in spoon-making the methods were quite different. The process of turning a strip of silver into a spoon was lengthy. It involved repeated beatings, shapings with anvil and hammer, filings, and burnishings. This ran into time and money. Consequently, a man who owned a few silver spoons was considered well-to-do and only the wealthy could afford a good supply of both spoons and hollow ware.

Since pewter is soft metal, spoons made of it were formed in a mold. These molds were of brass, bronze, bell metal, or iron. They were in two parts and were held together by a clamp. The molten metal was poured into it and, when formed and cool, was removed in the shape of a spoon. The edges were then scraped and the piece burnished and polished. These finishing steps were, of course, all done by hand.

Decorative elements were the result of designs cut into the mold. Spoons made by trained pewterers were naturally better finished and their molds of good quality and design. In addition to spoons from their shops, many others were made at home out of old pewter, broken pieces and the like. One spoon mold in a community was freely loaned by its owner to any neighbor who had some old pewter and was thrifty enough to convert it into spoons.

There were also the early nineteenth-century tinkers who traveled the countryside on foot carrying their molds and other tools with them. They made an indifferent living, according to the record of one who kept a journal. In it, he told of melting some old pewter plates, running the resulting metal in his spoon mold, and so making and finishing twelve spoons. For this entire process, he received thirty cents.

Braziers and brass and iron foundries were, of course, the makers of these spoon molds, but if they advertised them it is lost information. Old spoon molds are to be found in museums and private collections. In fact, there are pewter collectors owning such molds who like to use broken and hopelessly damaged pieces as material for running spoons. Such spoons can not be classed as old, but they make a good addition to a table setting of this once-lowly household ware.

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