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( Article orginally published February 1944 )
If you had been a pilgrim in France back in the twelfth century, you would have been proud indeed to wear your badge or token of pewter on your hat or coat. It was a sign, you see, that you had made a pilgrimage, and for that reason your pewter token had an important place in your daily life.
Your token may very probably have been in the shape of a cockle-shell, symbol of St. Michel. It is said that the cockle-shell was chosen because so many were found on the shores near Mont St. Michel in northern France. There pilgrims would gather from all over France, and a pewter token from Mont St. Michel was valued highly in those times.
Undoubtedly you would also have had in your pocket a little pewter vessel or dish to hold some consecrated earth or special religious relic. Sometimes these were used as containers for holy water and the like.
Pewter has been important for a long time. Made of an alloy of tin and lead it was used in China more than two thousand years ago and in Japan about this same time. This Japanese pewter has a definite patina a faint green rust of two tints, consisting of mottled patches of the darker shade on the lighter ground. Most Japanese pewter contained a great portion of' lead, making it easy to work. Perhaps this fact accounts for the fairly elaborate objects produced by the Japanese.
However, pewter is beautiful in itself, and does not need the embellishment of copper or brass. Even the carving is somewhat superfluous. Such must have been the thoughts of Colonial pewterers, for although they used pewters made of many different alloys, for the most part they kept to simple designs with a minimum of elaboration. Early American pewter was made of tin combined with some other metal or metals, such as antimony, bismuth, brass, copper, lead, and even zinc and iron. The favorite combination, however, still remained the same as that used by the Chinese so long ago tin and lead.
Many domestic utensils were fashioned of pewter, especially platters, plates, basins, candlesticks, salts, and even cups and saucers. Spoons, too, were made of pewter, but never forks; the alloy was not strong enough for this.