has been a part of civilized man for over 560 years now, making it a
mainstay in the American life style since day we first colonized
Thomas Dale Company, pewter is the passion that drives our
business, be it spun or cast, each piece is inevitably hand made in
one form or another, just as it was since its inception. Older and
modern pieces, each style of collecting has a broad support base,
because of its unique facet in time, history and beauty. Pewter has
quickly become preferred over silver because of its beauty, low
maintenance and cost. It is a solid alloy not a plating, so its
beauty is more than skin deep.
receives many questions about pewter, so we have opened this blog up
to address many the questions asked and discover your passion for
The Heart of Our Passion of Pewter
Lost to many but not to some.
As many a hand touches a piece of pewter one feels its
smooth cool surface and weight.
As many an eye takes in the beauty of its form and lose
themselves as they gaze deep into
its reflective lustre.
There and in its content, its worth may end for many,
but begin for others.
As my hand touches a piece of pewter, I feel a thousand
hands, touch back.
Hear so many thoughts as hours spent and into each piece
pride had went.
My mind sees what my eyes miss, the labour and journey
of a thousand lives, whose
knowledge lay in the hands that made this sole piece.
The countless many to be made, for royalty and common,
and yet not one more important
than the other, why?
Each was held to the standard of pride; of all that had
been, to those who are.
Under each master craftsman nary a piece of pewter
escapes, the eye, touch or pride.
Pride that gives honour back to the thousands of masters
that guide this master’s hand
through every piece, their pride lay as the hands of a
brother softly on the master's
shoulders, in support of every piece; they peer over the
shoulder and smile.
As it becomes a family heirloom around which
generational traditions grow, stories are
told and food consumed.
An honoured vehicle for sacrament through many faiths.
That is where the true worth of each product of pewter
History of American
Pewter is an alloy
composed mainly of tin with various amounts of lead, copper, zinc,
antimony, and bismuth.
Several early civilizations, the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and
Romans, are known to have used this soft metal. In England, pewter
regulations were passed as early as 1348 in London for quality
standards, working conditions, and selling restrictions. This was
followed in 1473 by Edward IVs grant of a royal charter to the 'Minister
of Pewterers' to supervise and control the trade throughout the
The history of pewter in America goes
back to the early colonial period. Though pewter was then considered
to be somewhat of a luxury item, it had made its appearance in
Jamestown, Virginia by 1610, and in the New England area by the
1630s as newly arrived colonists brought pewter with them from their
native England. At least five pewter smiths were active in the
Massachusetts Bay Colony by 1640. These pewterers had trained in
England under the strict auspices of The Worshipful Company of
Pewterers, a powerful guild which so stringently regulated all
aspects of the manufacture of pewter that English pewter was
regarded as the finest made
England's mercantile policy was to
export only finished pewter products to her colonies, to tax
un-worked pewter and to prohibit the export of pure tin, the main
ingredient in pewter. Thus, colonial pewter smiths were restricted to
repair work or were forced to buy up worn pewter vessels at fifty to
seventy per cent of their original cost and to melt them and cast
them as new items. In daily use, pewter in eighteenth century
America is estimated to have lasted only ten years due to its low
melting point and the ease with which it was dented. However,
the demand for pewter was always great and colonial pewter smiths could
sell their wares more cheaply than imported English pewter.
While the very poor used wooden
utensils, most colonials who could afford it used pewter; and it
came to be regarded as almost a symbol of gentility. Though
pewter vessels cost only about one-tenth the price of silver, they
were still fairly expensive since the cost of a dish or tankard
equaled or exceeded what a skilled craftsman earned in a day. A
study of English export records by Robert W. Symonds revealed that
by 1720 "the value of pewter imports from England began to exceed
the combined totals of the value of silver objects, furniture,
upholstery wares, including bedding, curtains, carpets, hangings,
and upholstered furniture ." More than 300 tons of English pewter
were shipped to the American colonies annually in the 1760's.
did silversmiths, many pewter smiths identified their works by stamping
their pewter with a mark called a touchmark
or simply a touch. While English touch designs, such as the rampant
lion, were popular before the War for Independence, afterwards the
patriotic American eagle was often substituted. After about 1825 the
originality of the decorative touches declined radically to simply
the pewter manufacturer's name in a rectangular frame. The collector of
American pewter is presented with a multitude of problems in
identification, for not all touchmarks
have yet been linked to a specific pewter smith. Numerous
have been rendered illegible through wear, and many pieces were
never marked in the first place since it was never required by law.
Pewter was marked not
only by its makers but also often by its owners. Owners
would stamp or engrave their initials on their more
important pieces of pewter and this would serve as
identification should the pieces be borrowed or stolen.
Important families even went so far as to have family
crests or coats of arms engraved on pewter when they
In the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries American pewter was made by casting
the molten metal in molds which were usually made of
brass or bronze. Molds were very expensive and
immigrating pewter smiths often brought their molds with
them from England and Germany. However molds were
produced in America as well. These would then be passed
down from generation to generation of pewter smiths.
tankard required five separate molds, one each for the
body, bottom, handle, cover, and thumb piece. Showing
great ingenuity, pewter smiths often used one mold for a
variety of purposes.
Early American pewter is noted
for its simplicity of style. The difficulty and expense
of obtaining molds resulted in a slower stylistic
evolution than that of silver which did not require
molds for its manufacture, though the general design
trends in silver were eventually reflected in pewter.
Because pewter was a far softer metal, a thicker
construction was often used as a means of increasing
durability. Further, pewter's basically utilitarian
nature discouraged excessive ornamentation.
Near the end of the eighteenth
century a new type of pewter called,
introduced from England. Harder than regular pewter,
Britannia was an alloy
of tin, copper, and antimony but was without any lead.
It was easier and faster to manufacture, for it could
either be more thinly cast or it could be stamped or
spun from sheets of the rolled metal. This also meant
that the style could respond to the dictates of fashion
as quickly as silver. In fact,
Britannia came to
resemble silver, especially in brilliance and shape,
more than it resembled traditional pewter, with the
notable exception of price. It was exceedingly popular
until about 1850 when the process of electroplating was
introduced whereby a thin coating of silver could be
applied to cover the
Britannia or other
metal. Over the next twenty years
Britannia makers and
pewter smiths either gradually shifted to the manufacture of
silver plate or went out of business. This was due to
the competition from the ever-increasing popularity of
porcelain and other pottery wares as well as the finally
overwhelming competition from silver plate.
Considering the amount of
American pewter which once existed, alarmingly little
has survived to the present. The former advantage that
damaged or worn pewter could be melted down and recast
has robbed us of a complete view of the development of
pewter in America. Also, during the War for Independence
many donated their pewter to be cast into musket balls. But the special allure of pewter was recognized even as
its popularity declined. In 1839 an old pewter beaker
was the first recorded object given to the New Hampshire
Historical Society. And today we continue to collect and
honor works of this soft-luster metal which played such
an important role in the early history of this country.
Adapted from the exhibition catalog, American Pewter
(c. 1730 - c. 1870) in the collection of Dr. and Mrs.
Melvyn D. Wolf. 1973, The Flint Institute of Arts,
The Pewter Collectors' Club of America, Inc
Fisk and Freeman
The Pewter Myth
(explained by Pat & Tom Hooper of ASL Pewter)
Pewter smiths started bringing their work to a high
polished finish in 1635. This served several purposes. First, pewter
was sometimes called “poor man’s silver” and the polished finish
reflected that moniker. Second, the polished finish was an instantly
recognizable sign for any potential customer that the alloy used was
free of lead or other impurities, since such lesser alloys would not
hold a polish. Finally, the high shine demonstrated that the work
was done by the master smith rather than by an apprentice or
journeyman, whose work would have a satin or rubbed finish, which
can hide flaws.
No self respecting pewter smith would have let anything
with a dark finish out of the shop! The only reasons for pewter to
be dark today are that the finish has been intentionally applied,
the piece has lead in the alloy, or that the piece was cared for
improperly and has become etched. We at ASL Pewter are proud to
offer historically accurate designs in the correct polished finish.
An antique finish is available on most pieces for those who prefer a
more primitive look.
Lead in Pewter
We get asked quite often is there lead in your
pewter, the simple answer is no and yes.
Early pewter, as explained above, did contain lead.
Older pewter with higher lead content are heavier, tarnish faster,
and oxidation gives them a darker silver-grey color or grayish-black
People became aware of the dangers of
lead in items that were to be used for food and drink in
about the 1920's.
Founded in 1958 the APG (American
Pewter Guild) lobbied congress to create a regulation
that any pewter item used for food or drink must be lead
They were successful and this regulation came to pass
in the 1960's. Some of the Guild's founding members were
Boardman, Danforth, Stieff and Woodbury Pewter. Pieces
were often marked - ATC (Antimony, Tin and Copper),
signifying no lead content.
I find it
funny that this "lead stigma" falls on Pewter, which has
been lead free for quite some time,
"leaded" crystal such as Baccarat, Mikasa, Orrefors and
Waterford seem to be above it all.
Care for Pewter
The care of pewter is simple, use it, hand wash it in
soapy water with a cloth or sponge, rinse and towel dry by hand.
If you live by the sea, atmospheric salts can dull
pewter's luster or in a smoggy environment, wash it as described
above 2 or 3 times a year. So enjoy you pewter, simply use and wash
Never wash pewter in an automatic
dishwasher (the temperature and detergent will ruin
Never expose pewter to a direct flame
or heated surface (tin, the main portion of pewter,
melts at 231.88 C & 449.38 F)
Never wrap pewter directly in paper
(brown paper stains, newspaper may bleed, paper will
scratch) when moving or storing in the attic,
instead wrap the pieces in thin sheets foam or
in acid-free tissue and then enclose it in
polyethylene bags, then
you can wrap the enclosed pieces with paper.
Never scrub with a brush or metal
Never store acidic liquids or liquors
in pewter, instead use for immediate use, (that
day), then wash, rinse and dry (storing may etch the surface).
Never allow your candles to burn into
the pewter candle cup of your candlesticks or
The beauty of pewter is, it is virtually maintenance
free. Simply using on a monthly basis and washing is all that is
The surface of pewter will develop a patina over many
Many owners love the patina, as do many collectors and
do nothing more than hand wash and towel dry.
Antiqued Finish is done to make modern pewter resemble age old
pewter and has a grayed, brownish or blackened finish. This is
achieved by applying either heat or chemicals to the pewter surface.
Do not use a cleaner or #0000 steel wool on these pieces as it
removes the antiqued finish surface.
Pewter with a
Satin Finish has a grain from being buffed with a
cloth wheel. Using #0000 steel wool and going lightly
with the grain of the pewter will take out most mars
and some light scratches.
Pewter with a
Bright Finish can be polished using either
Mish's polish or
Sunshine Polishing Cloths. Scratches and scuffs,
however, must be polished by a professional. Contact the
manufacturer of your pewter, to see if they can rebuff your bright finish.
Value of older pieces
Thomas Dale Company is constantly asked to give a
value to the worth of some pewter pieces people have. Unfortunately we are
not qualified appraisers. There are many sites directly
addressing those issues or search engines that give many
clues as to manufacturer, date of the piece and worth.
If you can find the manufacturer, from
either the touch mark or the name on the bottom of the piece,
such member sites as:
sign on, search for items
in advanced search with the completed box checked
lists items that have sold in stores and auctions
or search engines such as
general search engines
, may help identify and its
of Pewter Pieces
There are two basic types of pewter,
spun (such as plates by
cast pieces (such as plates by
ASL, every thing by
Eagle Pewter or
Spun pieces are hand spun on lathes.
Cast pewter pieces are generally heavier than spun
pieces, as molds need room for the pewter to flow into.
Cast pieces have the ability for a pewter smith to
create intricate scenes with fine detail.
We get asked by many people who inherited
pewter or wish to sell it, if Thomas Dale Co. would be
interested in buying their pewter piece. At this point
we only buy only new product and directly from the
If you have pieces to sell do some
homework and find what the pieces are worth (see
Value of older pieces).
Then either sell them on eBay, Craig's
list or see if your local antique store or auction house
may sell them for you. If you are not familiar with
eBay, there are companies that
specialize in selling your pieces on eBay for a percent of the sale.