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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Pewter On The Dresser
(Part 3 Of 3)



An interesting vessel, which one often hears mentioned by pewter-collectors, is the tappit-hen. This was a peculiarly shaped measure which was made and used in Scotland. There were usually three pieces in a set, and they ranged from one pint to three quarts in capacity. The smallest size had no lid. The largest ones usually had a pewter cup fitting in the neck of the measure, under the lid, for use when his lordship called loudly for ale outside the tavern door. Tappit-hens are rare in this country; in fact, I doubt if there are many specimens of genuine Scotch make this side of the Atlantic.

I have tried to give an idea of what old pewter is like; now a word about collecting it. In the first place, is it faked? That's always an important question.

Imitations of old pewter ware have undoubtedly been made and put on the market. In fact, the tappit-hen has been counterfeited in Scotland, England, Belgium, and the United States, there having been a noticeable demand for tappit-hens among collectors. The obvious moral is, be slow to buy a tappit-hen, for genuine specimens in this country are few. Were it not for this demand, it would hardly pay to make bogus pieces even at the prevailing prices for an tiques. First, an alloy must be made almost precisely like old pewter, for nothing else has the same appearance. Then molds must be made and the pieces cast in the old way. Then they must be "antiqued"scratched, dented, left out in the weather, buried, or treated with acids. All this is expensive, and in the end it doesn't pay, for such a business must be carried on in a small way at best. Owing to the lack of reliable marks, pewter can be faked so as to deceive the average collector, but it is safe to say that there are few pieces in this country that are complete counterfeits.

More common is the "glorifying" of pewter. Plain pieces are sometimes ornamented so as to increase their value. Repousse work is occasionally added, but the usual method is chasing or engraving. I find that collectors and dealers are always suspicious of eighteenth-century household utensils, in the English forms, which show much decoration. Probably this form of faking will defeat itself, as collectors are showing a willingness to pay as much for a plain piece as for an engraved one of the same age and equal beauty of form.

Fictitious dates are sometimes stamped on the bottoms of pewter utensils, but this is a crude method and easily detected by those who study the period styles. The faker usually wants to make a good sum while he 's about it, and turns the clock back at least a century. To "antique" the honest reproductions that are on the market does not pay, for they cost nearly as much as antique pieces.

There are one or two manufacturers in England and at least one in the United States who have revived some of the old forms and are making pewter reproductions and selling them as such. Such ware is charming for decorative purposes as well as for actual use in modern Colonial dining-rooms. Such reproductions sell for prices something like these: flagons and tankards, $50 to $120 each; mugs, $15.00 to $30.00; candlesticks, $15.00 to $30,00; plates, about $10; more elaborate pieces, up to $ 50 or $ 100. For the homemaker, in decorating and furnishing, these reproductions are a great boon, though of course they have little interest for the collector.

Now what is old pewter worth? Well, as in the case of other antiques, prices vary, and any piece is worth about what you can get for it. In England the greatest value is attached to sixteenth-century pewter, but in this country the household ware of the eighteenth century is most sought after, for we surround with a halo of national romance almost everything pertaining to the Revolutionary period. Ecclesiastical ware is rare in this country, and hence valuable, but the simple pieces that adorned the Colonial dresser stand highest in the average collector's favor.

Such pieces have a money value, but that value is hard to determine. One writer sets the following values, for example: plates, eight to eleven inches in diameter, $15 to $25; plates and trenchers, twelve to sixteen inches, $30 to $60; 20-inch plates, $60 to $100. If you were to offer your pewter plates for sale, this is probably what you could get for them, but you are lucky if you can purchase at such low figures. Prices in the shops run much higher, and good pieces are usually appraised for more by their owners. A plain pewter coffee-urn is worth about $20; especially beautiful pieces are worth more. These urns usually had a tripod standard, made of brass, with a pierced gallery. These standards are frequently missing, and an urn with its stand is worth nearly twice as much as one without it.

It may be interesting to recall at this point that in 1557 pewter ware was selling by weight, at seven or eight pence per pound.

In general, the small collector will do well to stick to the simple British and American ware pretty closely, selecting his specimens for their quaint beauty of form and, as a rule, preferring plain to decorated pieces. I have no doubt that many such treasures are still stored away in old attics in New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the South, waiting for loving hands to brush away the dust and restore them to a place of honor. For, after all, that 's the only romantic way to collect.

Before closing it may be well to say a word about repairing and caring for old pewter. Don't repair it unless you have to, and when you do, handle it gently and with care. Do not attempt to hammer out dents, for old pewter may be brittle. Warm the metal and press out the dents with the round end of a broom-handle, or employ some similar method. What harm does a dent do, anyway? Holes may be carefully soldered and scratches may be rubbed down with very fine emery-powder.Slack blotches caused by long oxidization may be removed with acids, or by soaking in paraffin. If the pewter is to be displayed but not handled, it may be protected with a thin coat of oil or vaseline.

Museum specimens are usually not cleaned at all, but I find that most private collectors prefer to polish their pewter and display it to the best advantage. I have made a note of several recipes for cleaning and polishing, and offer a few of them herewith, with the probably unnecessary advice that the simplest method be tried first.

Scrub vigorously with a hard brush and soap and hot water. Soda, borax, or ammonia may be added to the water. Follow with silver polish or whitening, and polish with a chamois skin or woolen cloth. This will not remove every trace of age, but will brighten the metal up. To keep it in goad condition repeat the process about once a month. Never scrape the pewter with a knife or resort to emery-paper.

Pewter may be boiled in a weak solution of soda, which removes surface stains. Oxidization spots may be carefully treated with hydrochloric acid and the piece rinsed in a weak solution of ammonia and rubbed up with a cloth.

An effective method is to soak the pewter for a day or two in a solution of potash. Dissolve a piece of potash the size of a hickory-nut in a quart of hot water, or double the amounts. Then polish with a cork, moistened with water or oil and dipped in very fine seashore sand or Bristol brick, and finish with chamois skin or flannel.

As a postscript, let me add an interesting fact that has been brought to my attention. I find that certain American-made pieces, marked "Reed & Barton, 1760," are treasured by ill-informed collectors as being very old and rare-and bring high prices in the shops, too. As a matter of fact these pieces were made about 1840, 1760 being the design number. This is simply an example of a common error.


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