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The gray, silvery sheen of pewter has been a delight to the eyes of countless generation of collectors. It was used for ecclesiastical purposes even before it became a part of the household to begin its long career meeting domestic requirements.
One of the oldest composite metals known, the first recorded mention of pewter as table ware was in the year 1274, at the coronation banquet of Edward I of England, who owned three hundred pieces at that time.
Pewter has been made more or less steadily from very early times until present; the most active period of the ancient craft was from about 1700 to 1850. As recently as 1907 the firm of Reed & Barton Silversmiths advertised pewter in the Ladies' Home journal with the statements that, "The present day is witnessing a remarkable revival in the use of pewterware. Antiquated tea sets, kettles, candlesticks, tankards, etc. . . ." Much pewter of this vintage is today being passed off as much older.
The quality of pewter varies considerably. The finest quality consisted of 112 parts of tin to 26 parts of copper; a medium grade was made up of 100 parts of tin to 17 parts of antimony; and the cheapest and poorest quality, which was also known as black metal, was simply 60 parts of tin to 40 parts of lead. Good pewter can be recognized by its weight, color and feel.
A soft metal with low melting point, pewter can be easily worked. It can be cast in molds, spun, or rolled into sheets and then hammered into the desired shapes.
When domestic articles became too battered and misshapen from use, they were not repaired, but instead were melted down and recast. Spoons particularly, received hard wear and were often recast, which is why we find so many molds for pewter spoons handed down through the years.
Some, but not all, pewter will be found with a touch-mark. This is like the hallmark on silver to distinguish the maker.
Among the items you will find made of pewter are plates, candlesticks, oil lamps, teapots, spoons, bowls, basins, tankards, mugs, porringers, inkwells, pitchers and flagons. The older the piece the more likely it is to be simple in form. The more elaborate specimens were a little later.
Pewter darkens and dulls, but it is not difficult to clean. Ordinary kitchen scouring powder moistened with a little kerosene will clean most darkened ware, but if the tarnish is very bad you might try either fine steel wool or fine emery cloth, being careful to use them sparingly so as not to cut too deeply into the soft metal. For regular cleaning, either silver polish or light oil rubbed on with a soft cloth will be sufficient.