- The Metal of the Millennium
Tin has been mined and used to make
objects both decorative and utilitarian for over 3,000 years. Tin
is the fourth most precious metal in common usage after platinum,
gold and silver . It is bright, attractive and extremely versatile.
Pewter is an alloy that is made almost entirely from pure tin.
Modern pewter contains about 92% tin and added to this are small
amounts of antimony, copper or bismuth to give additional strength.
Tin is a plentiful natural resource and tin mining has little or
no impact on the environment.
The earliest known example of pewterware
was found in Egypt and can be ascribed to the period 1350-1580
BC. It is a flask-shaped utensil with hinged lid and two handles
and when analyzed was found to be comparable with early 19th Century
pewter. Pewter achieved popularity in late Roman Britain, where
almost 300 Pewter finds have been made that can be dated from 200
AD. Though there are references to pewterers in the 11th and 12th
centuries it was not until the 14th Century that pewter became
widely used and the formation of the pewterers trade guilds in
London (1348), York (1498) and Edinburgh (1496) gave the craft
official standing. The Worshipful Company of Pewterers, in the
City of London, was granted a Royal Charter by King Edward IV in
1473. This charter allowed the Company to set and enforce standards
and regulate the pewter trade throughout England.
Regardless of its charm and elegance,
pewter was rarely regarded as anything but domestic ware throughout
the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. The influence and control of
the Worshipful Company of Pewterers waned rapidly in the 18th Century.
A decrease in trade can in part be attributed to new techniques
in the production of pottery and glassware. At the end of the 18th
Century the development in Sheffield of new manufacturing techniques
saw a revival of pewter. Once more, pewter manufacturing was a
prosperous and thriving industry. Trade gradually declined towards
the end of the 19th Century until the emergence of an exhilarating
range of Art Noveau designs at the turn-of-the-century. The quality
was excellent and the designs emphasized the versatility and visual
impact of pewter. Recent years have seen a resurgence in the demand
for pewter, although changing lifestyles and fashions mean that
different products replace traditional favorites. This resurgence
in trade can also be attributed to the formation in 1970 of the
Association of British Pewter Craftsmen (ABPC). The initiative
was taken by a group of manufacturers, the metal suppliers, and
the Worshipful Company of Pewterers. By promoting high standards,
raising awareness of pewter, and encouraging innovation and excellence
in manufacturing, ABPC has achieved impressive results and has
helped to establish British Pewter firmly in both domestic and
worldwide markets. The Association has specified standards for
metal quality and thickness and defined grades for solder and finish.
Its members are required to "touchmark" the finished
products, much as pewterers were obliged to do in centuries past.
For over 500 years the pewter touchmark has been a symbol of quality
and craftsmanship and still today the marks provide assurance of
a high-quality prestige product that is functional, durable and
practical - but above all beautiful to use. This resurgence in
trade can also be attributed to the introduction of new designs
which has dramatically increased customer conception of pewter.
Centuries of constant use show how
well pewter withstands the demands of everyday life. Pewter has
always been popular for drinking vessels, tankards for beer, goblets
for wine, and a wide range of innovative hip flasks for something
a little stronger. It has been said, that pewter improves the taste
of wine, but whether or not this is a fact, it certainly adds a
touch of luxury to the occasion. One further advantage is the pleasure
given by the warmth and softness of pewter. It almost has the feel
of silk. Young designers are reviving a long tradition and intricate
patters being produced are often derivations of Viking or Celtic
designs which were popular at times when pewter was in frequent
use for decorative purposes. Indeed Homer, writing in the 9th or
10th Century BC, testifies that tin was highly prized and used
in place of silver for embellishing the shields of Agamemnon and
Achilles and the war chariots of Diomedes. Sculpted models reproducing
the most intricate detail are not a problem with pewter.
Pewter is frequently used in combination
with other materials - ceramics, glassware, brass and exotic woods
all blend most attractively with pewter items. The versatility
of pewter is infinite and the manufacturing methods and techniques
are ever improving to meet the high standards required by today's
discerning buyer. Whatever the production method, the finishing
of the product is all
important as it determines the final appearance of the pewter item.
Polishing can produce a deep lustre similar to silver. An attractive
alternative is known as a "satin" finish, which is achieved
by using a fine abrasive. It give a soft gleam which is unique
to pewter. Another traditional design is the "hammered" effect.
Modern manufacturers achieve this by rolling the design onto pewter
sheets, although hand hammered and chased pieces are still available
- but more expensive. Engraving is an age-old means of decoration
and one that can transform an article into an exciting and unique
piece. The softness of pewter allows designers a very wide scope
and they are continually using different texturing techniques to
lend individuality and identity to their work. As can be seen,
the applications of pewter are nearly boundless and touch every
facet of modern living as a link with traditional heritage and
as a living craft. Pewter is a soft, warm and lustrous metal that
can blend with style and fashion. Whatever one's interests or tastes,
pewter has something for everybody. The past, the present, and
the future, pewter is the metal for the millennium.