About Pewter

Pewter is a metal alloy, traditionally between 85 and 99 percent tin, with the remainder consisting of 1-4 percent copper, acting as a hardener, with the addition of lead for the lower grades of pewter and a bluish tint. Traditionally, there were three grades of pewter: fine, for eatingware, with 96-99 percent tin, and 1-4 percent copper; trifle, also for eating and drinking utensils but duller in appearance, with 92 percent tin, 1-4 percent copper, and up to 4 percent lead; and lay or ley metal, not for eating or drinking utensils, which could contain up to 15 percent lead. Modern pewter mixes the tin with copper, antimony, and/or bismuth as opposed to lead.

Physically, pewter is a bright, shiny metal that is very similar in appearance to silver. Like silver, pewter will also oxidize to a dull gray over time if left untreated. Pewter is a very malleable alloy, being soft enough to carve with hand tools, and it also takes good impressions from punches or presses. Because of this inherent softness and malleability, however, pewter cannot be used to make tools itself. Some types of pewter pieces, such as candlesticks, would be turned on a metal lathe. Pieces produced through this technique are sometimes referred to as “holloware.” Pewter has a low melting point of around 225-240°C depending on the exact mixture of metals. Duplication by casting will give excellent results.

Use of pewter was common from the Middle Ages up until the various developments in glass-making during the 18th and 19th centuries. Pewter was the chief tableware until the making of china. Mass production of glass products has seen glass universally replace pewter in day-to-day life. Pewter artifacts continue to be produced, mainly as decorative or specialty items. Pewter was also used around East Asia. Roman pewter items are very rare, although some are still in existence. Pewter gradually stopped being used and by 1850, it was just about gone. By the 20th century, however, the craft was brought back into existence.

Non-lidded mugs and lidded tankards may be the most familiar pewter artifacts from the late 17th and 18th centuries, although the metal is also used for many other items including porringers, plates, dishes, basins, spoons, measures, flagons, communion cups, teapots, sugar bowls, and cream jugs. In the early 19th, changes of fashion witnessed a decline in the use of pewter flatware, but increased production of both cast and spun pewter tea sets, whale-oil lamps, candlesticks, etc. Later in the century, pewter alloys were often used as a base metal for silver-plated objects.

The word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter. This became peautre in French, and many other languages.

Pewter from Boardman Silversmiths

retains its luster without ever tarnishing. Boardman uses only the finest and the heaviest of lead-free pewter that is an alloy of 92% pure tin, 7% pure antimony, and 1% copper. Precise curves and contours are achieved by using spinning leverage up to 900 psi. With a steady freehand touch, artisans then solder on solid and hollow fittings (solid fittings by centrifugal casting; hollow fittings are hand-formed in bronze using slush casting techniques dating back to the 17th century). Each piece is hand polished by highly skilled craftsmen using imported pumice and then hand buffed to either a flawless bright finish or satin finish. The bright finish is similar in appearance to polished sterling but does not require the same upkeep.

Find out more about Boardman Silversmiths pewter holloware


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