The History of Pewter

Brief History of Pewter

Pewter is a general name used to denote a number of alloys of various metals in diverse proportions, the sole common feature of which lies in the fact that tin is always the chief constituent. Tin (Sn) is a relatively soft and ductile metal with a silvery white color. It has a density of 7.29 grams per cubic centimeter, a low melting point of 231.88 C (449.38 F), and a high boiling point of 2,625 C (4,757 F).

The history of tin goes back to the Sumerians who produced bronze (a copper-tin alloy) nearly 4500 years. The oldest known pewter is about 3500 years old and comes from Egypt. Pewter from China dates back at least 2000 years and from Japan about 1100 years. Phoenicians traded for Cornish tin more than 2000 years ago, and tin and lead resources may have been a factor in the Roman occupation of Britain. Small pewter items were made in Roman Britain.

In Europe, pewter plates and hollow ware were being used by noble households and the church in the 12th and 13th centuries. In lesser households, however, it was much later that pewter began to replace plates, bowls and beakers made of wood and bone. With the increasing use of pewter, guilds were formed to promote the interests of pewter makers and to develop and maintain both the quality of material and products made from it.

As the industry grew, guilds were formed throughout Europe. One of the largest and most influential was "The Worshipful Company of Pewterers" of London, which was formed in 1348. Guilds were given the power to regulate all aspects of the craft; from the training of an apprentice through to the composition of the pewter. Members of the guild were required to register "touch marks" which would identify their work. Little did these pewtersmiths of old realize how valuable touch marks would become to the modern collector.

The use of pewter reached its peak in the 17th century when, from birth to death, people were surrounded by pewter bottles and spoons; items for eating and drinking, and serving; bleeding bowls, bedpans, and snuffboxes. Taverns used mugs and measures, churches used flagons, chalices, patens and baptismal bowls.

The introduction of porcelain and pottery during the 18th century heralded the beginning of the end of pewter tableware. Even so, pewter continued to be used for decorative purposes. Artists and craftsmen during the Arts and Crafts Period and the Art Nouveau Period used pewter and achieved glorious results. Today, pewter is still valued for its beauty and flexibility.

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