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Pewter is known to date as far back as 3500 years ago from Egypt, from China at least 2000 years, and Japan about 1100 years. For almost 150 years, England was the source of pewter for the American colonies. The American Revolution ended the embargo on raw tin which allowed the American pewter makers to flourish.
Tin is the main ingredient of pewter, in addtion to small amounts of lead, copper, antimony, and bismuth which makes the shaping of products easier and increases the hardness. It can be molded, spun, cut, and soldered.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, items made from pewter in Europe were reserved for the noble households and the church. The lesser households used plates and bowls made of wood or bone.
In 1348, the first ordinance from the City of London granted rules for the manufacture of pewter. Like silver and gold, it was assayed and carried maker's marks and other marks of origin and standard. By the 17th and 18th century, pottery and porcelain began to replace pewter as use of utility ware.
Very little American pewter contains lead since most of the items were designed for tableware. It was known that the use of items containing lead could result in poisoning. Some of the finer examples of American pewter date from 1700 to the 1840's. Many of the pieces were melted down into bullets during the American Revolution, which accounts for the reason of not being able to locate items during this period. Many of the items that can be found from that period are buttons, buckles, writing implements, and some tableware.
After the American Revolution, antimony was used with tin to regain the popularity that pewter once held. Glassware and china was beginning to be popular in the home over pewter. This combination resulted in a product called britannia. It had a lustrous silver-like appearance and was much more durable. Today, britannia is a collectible in its own right.
Pewter is still being made in North America, Europe and many other countries. The world's largest producer of pewter is Royal Selangor in Malaysia. The company goes back to 1885 when it was a "cottage industry" set up by a Chinese immigrant to make pewter articles. He came from Swatow. It is known for Kuthin Swatow Chinese pewter ware. A little bit of trivia on Royal Selangor....The world's largest pewter tankard was made by Royal Selangor and was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1985. It was to commemorate it centenary and is displayed in the Royal Selangor headquarters. It weighs 1,557 kg.(3,340 lbs.), 1.987 meters tall(6.5 ft.), and holds 2,796 litres of beer(728 gallons)! It has travelled around the world to such places as Canada, Australia, Singapore and China.
To view some examples of antique pewter: American Life Antiques
Chimney Point Pewter Studio
Warman's Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide - 32nd Edition
Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide-18th edition
The Next Monthly Newsletter will feature the history of teapots.
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