Pewter is an alloy—that is, a “mixed metal”—of mostly tin and a little copper, plus antimony (a hardner) and bismuth. In old pewter, sometimes lead was used, though today’s pewter is usually lead-free (especially for food-related items). Additionally, sterling silver is sometimes included (especially on pieces with complex designs, where a bit of sparkle is desired).
Pewter has been in-use since 3000 BC. One of the first ancient pieces was found in an Egyptian tomb (c. 1450 BC). And, for centuries, pewter was the chief tableware material (for plates, bowls, and tankards) until the early 1700’s when the Germans finally “cracked the code” and successfully reproduced Chinese porcelain (which had been an extremely precious luxury product in Europe).
Because pewter is soft, it lends itself to hammering and other hand-crafted processes. While the metal can be polished and will develop a brilliant shine, pewter—allowed to patinate naturally—develops a lovely, soft grey coloration.
The German Jugendstil desk set (box and business card holder), pictured above, was made around 1910. Click on the photo to learn more about it.
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