Replies to questions sent to the society.
Q. I recently inherited some pewter items and would like to know more about them.
Can you help?
A. Within this website, there is information on British and Irish pewter with some illustrations and a glossary of terms. There is also a bibliography of books and publications on all aspects of pewter; a number are available for sale through the Society and others can be obtained through your local Public Library in the UK and in other countries.
Examples of pewter-ware can be viewed at several locations in the UK and Ireland and at a number of museums and collections in other countries. Many of these are listed and have specialists who may assist. A reputable antique dealer may also be able to help but by no means all dealers have a significant knowledge of the subject so you should try to find one who specialises in metalware. In certain cases, the Society will assist in the identification of individual items.
Q. I have an old pewter tankard. Can you tell me what it is worth if I send a picture?
A. The Society is not a commercial organisation and cannot undertake valuations. A reputable antique dealer who specialises in antique metalware may be able to assist or point you in the right direction. Alternatively, some of the larger auction houses have appraisers with good knowledge of the subject.
Q. I have some pewter items that I wish to sell. Would your members be interested?
A. The Society does not accept advertisements for pewter for sale from the public or dealers. Some antique dealers or stallholders at antique fairs would make you an offer, but it would be wise to ‘shop around’. Auction houses often include pewter items in their regular antique sales and you can always offer them yourself at an on-line sale on eBay or similar.
Q. I have some pewter goblets that are about 20 years old and would like to acquire some more.
Can you tell me who made them?
A. The Society concentrates its activities on antique pewter – generally items more than 100 years old. Whilst some members also collect later items, the Society is not usually able to help in identifying modern pewter. There are only limited records of 20th century pewterers, so it is rarely possible to identify makers from this period anyway.
Q. Can I use my lovely old pewter tankard to drink from?
A. Pewter measures from the 17th and 18th centuries were made from an alloy of tin with a small percentage of lead to harden the metal. With current understanding of the effect of heavy metals such as lead on the body, it is not advisable to use them for drinking purposes.
Towards the end of the 18th century a new alloy called Britannia metal was discovered which could be used for large scale manufacture of teapots, tankards and the like through its ability to be rolled pressed and worked on wooden formers and cold stamped. Up to then pewter had been cast in expensive moulds. This change in tooling with Britannia metal gave resurgence to the industry and new centres were created in Sheffield and Birmingham.
As Britannia metal is an alloy of tin, antimony and copper there are no restrictions on its use for drinking. All pewter of modern manufacture meets the same standard.
Q. How do I clean and polish pewter?
A. How you care for your pewter depends on the appearance you wish to achieve and maintain. In daily use, pewter was kept bright and polished and many collectors prefer this appearance. Pewter does not tarnish like silver, so a periodic clean with an all-purpose metal (not silver) polish will keep it looking bright.
Much old pewter is patinated and has a colour ranging from mellow silver to charcoal grey, a more ‘antique’ appearance favoured by many collectors, especially in Britain and Europe. See the website section on cleaning and polishing for more information on the care of this type of pewter.
Old and valuable pieces will also benefit from an application of good quality neutral wax polish to protect from oxidisation.
Q. Where can I have items of pewter repaired or renovated?
A. There is no definitive list of pewter repairers. Several collectors and dealers have developed personal skills and undertake their own work. The book ‘Renovating Silver, Pewter and Brass’ by Hamish Bowie , published in 1980 by David & Charles Ltd. gives some guidance but the amateur should not practice on good pieces – better an honest, unrestored piece than one made worse through unskilled handiwork! Some antique dealers will have contact with metalwork restorers but the above maxim should still apply.
Q. Your website seems to concentrate on British pewter.
Where can I find information on pewter from Continental Europe and the USA?
A. There are a number of publications covering pewter from other parts of the world. The best starting point for European pewter is ‘Books on European Pewter Marks’ by Gadd, J., published by the Society in 1999. A comprehensive bibliography of publications on America pewter can be found on the website of The Pewter Collectors Club of America. Also check links to the Dutch and Flemish Societies in our resources page.
Q. Can you point me to a site on the web where I can look up the marks on my pewter?
A. For British and Irish pewter there is the Pewter Society’s Database of Pewterers, but you need to become a member to access it. There is no online search facility for pewter marks from other countries, nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future. Researchers in many countries or regions have compiled lists of pewter marks from their area, but they are not available electronically. Further, previously-unrecorded marks are discovered daily, and there are many areas for which no list of pewter marks have ever been compiled. There are several regional books on pewter marks which may help if you know the area from which your pewter comes – see Reading list.