Reference Library: Pewter
'Pewter' is a metal alloy, traditionally between 85 and 99 % tin, with the remainder consisting of 1-4 % copper, acting as a hardener, with the addition of lead for the lower grades of pewter and a bluish tint. There were three grades: Fine, for eatingware, with 96-99 % tin, and 1-4 % copper; Trifle, also for eating and drinking utensils but duller in appearance, with 92 % tin, 1-4 % copper, and up to 4 % lead; and Lay or Ley metal, not for eating or drinking utensils, which could contain up to 15 % lead. Modern pewter mixes the tin with copper, antimony and/or bismuth, as opposed to lead. Bismuth and zinc can also be added to pewter. Pewter cannot be used to make tools.
Physically, pewter is a bright, shiny metal that is very similar in appearance to silver. Like silver, pewter will also oxidize to a dull gray over time if left untreated. Pewter is a very malleable alloy, being soft enough to carve with hand tools, and it also takes good impressions from punches or presses. Some types of pewter pieces, such as candlesticks, would be turned on a metal lathe. Pieces produced through this technique are sometimes referred to as "holloware." Pewter has a low melting point of around 225-240C depending on the exact mixture of metals. Duplication by casting will give excellent results.
Use of pewter was common from the Middle Ages up until the various developments in glass-making during the 18th and 19th centuries. Pewter was the chief tableware until the making of china. Mass production of glass products has seen glass universally replace pewter in day-to-day life. Pewter artifacts continue to be produced, mainly as decorative or specialty items. Pewter was also used around East Asia. Roman pewter items are very rare, although some are still in existence. Pewter gradually stopped being used and by 1850, it was just about gone. By the 20th century, however, the craft was brought back into existence.
Unlidded mugs and lidded tankards may be the most familiar pewter artifacts from the late 17th and 18th centuries, although the metal is also used for many other items including porringers, plates, dishes, basins, spoons, measures, flagons, communion cups, teapots, sugarbowls, and cream jugs. In the early 19thc, changes of fashion witnessed a decline in the use of pewter flatware, but increased production of both cast and spun pewter tea sets, whale-oil lamps, candlesticks, etc. Later in the century, pewter alloys were often used as a base metal for silver-plated objects.
The word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter. This became peautre in French, and many other languages.
Today, pewter is mainly used in decorative objects, namely collectible statuettes and figurines, replica coins, etc.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Pewter".