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Updated on November 29, 2016
Photo by Wesley H. Brewton Jr
Photo by Wesley H. Brewton Jr

Pewter is a tin alloy used to make tableware, household utensils, and such ornamental objects as inkstands, candlesticks, lamps, and ashtrays. Most pewter manufactured today is composed of 90 percent to 95 percent tin, 1 percent to 3 percent copper, and the remainder of antimony. Old pewter, however, is often an alloy of tin and lead and usually contains from four to six parts of tin to one part of lead or, sometimes, copper. Pewter objects can be made by hammering a sheet of the metal into the desired shape or by melting the alloy and pouring it into molds.


Pewter was first manufactured about 2,000 years ago. Old pewter has a dark-gray tone and a satiny finish and is softer and less durable than modern pewter. The oldest surviving examples of pewter are coins, seals, and utensils from the ancient Roman Empire. The manufacture of pewter declined during the early Middle Ages. In the llth century, however, it was revived in England for the production of chalices, crucifixes, and other religious articles. Later it was used extensively throughout Europe for candlesticks, pitchers, and inexpensive tableware. Renaissance pewter was particularly elaborate. Pieces cast in relief were ornamented with Biblical scenes, portraits, and other designs. Pewter manufacture reached its zenith of perfection in 18th-century England.

Pewter was generally imported from England during the early years of the American colonial period, but after 1700 a thriving industry developed in the colonies. Although American pewter objects were largely modeled on English styles, a high standard of craftsmanship was maintained. Articles for a wide
variety of domestic uses were produced in large quantities during the 18th century. The manufacture of inexpensive china and glassware brought a halt to the pewter industry in the 19th century. Recently, however, the elegance and delicacy of old pewter pieces have aroused new interest in pewter ware.
Modern pewter, which has a shiny silver-gray tone, is used for reproduction of fine old pieces and for contemporary tableware.


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