by Dr. Lori Verderame
Dating back to the ancient world and experiencing a surge in popularity in the Middle Ages, pewter is a metal alloy used in the production of many objects. Pewter is a metal that is approximately between 85% and 95% tin with other metals like copper, antimony, silver or lead comprising the remaining parts. The word “pewter” comes from the term spelter often used to describe zinc and other alloys. Modern pewter pieces generally do not have lead contained in them. Pewter was also used as a basis or base metal material for objects that would be silver plated. Some pewter pieces can be quite old.
Pewter was made in Europe, parts of Asia, and throughout North America. From the 1500s to the 1900s, three grades of pewter were used. Fine metal pewter was used for tableware objects and low grade pewter was used for objects that were not in contact with food. Pewter, by the 19th Century, was used in large numbers for casting objects such as tankers, oil lamps and lanterns, candlesticks, tea sets, etc. Before the production of porcelains for tableware, like Limoges porcelains and Meissen porcelain, pewter was used for many types of tableware. From the late 18th Century until the early 20th Century, pewter was used to make cups, mugs, flagons, porridgers, chargers, trays, plates, platters, ash pots, etc.
Marks on pewter
Understanding pottery marks is a unique field and so is the method for understanding marks on metals like silver, gold, pewter and other metals. A pewter touch mark is a trade mark of sorts which can be traced to a specific pewterer (pewter maker). Touch marks may vary in size. When a date is visible on the touch mark that is the date when the pewterer’s company or firm was established and not when the piece of pewter was made. Don’t make this mistake. In addition to touch marks, higher quality pewter pieces have something called quality marks too. Some pewterers developed their own quality marks. Some quality marks like a crowned rose mark indicated a pewterer’s use of a high quality metal to make his pewter objects. A crowned X quality mark meant that a hard alloy was used. So there is a lot to know about pewter marks. I can help you sort through them for your pieces.
Capacity and verification marks are found on pewter drinking vessels. Capacity marks demonstrate how much liquid that an object can hold like a 1/2 pint or a 1/4 pint. Required by law as of 1836, capacity marks were used to maintain a uniform standard. Pewterers would punch or emboss their own capacity mark on their pieces in order to meet the standard. Some common capacity marks were crowned marks relating to the reign of a monarch like the William III standard and the George IV standard.
These capacity marks were further verified by an official weights and measures inspector. Verification marks showed that an object actually held the amount of liquid as stated by the capacity mark. Starting at the end of the 1870s, a verification mark typically consisted of a crown, monarch’s initials, and location number in the mark.
What to Look For
Like other collectible objects and metals such as sterling silver, when it comes to pewter, look for objects that are in good condition without strained areas or breaks. Signs of wear are expected, but good condition is key to value. Damage or poor repairs are tell tale signs of poor quality. Sets of pewter mugs or matching tea sets are more valuable if kept intact. In the same way that you may ask how old is my bottle, you can get information about the age and origin of your pewter piece by considering the object’s overall form and capacity, verification, and touch marks.
Get an online appraisal report of your pewter piece from Dr. Lori.