What is pewter?
Pewter alloy is
made of tin, bismuth, antimony, and some- times copper or silver, depending on
the alloy your artisan has selected for a specific item. Colonial pewter often
contained lead to give it strength. Lead causes old pewter to turn it's
characteristic dark gray color. Lead free pewter softens to a very light gray
patina. Today, pewter contains no lead. It is
completely food safe. Be sure to ask your pewtersmith what alloy is used to make
How is pewter made?
America, artisans made pewter articles in three ways; by melting pewter alloy
and casting it in molds, by hammering a flat piece of metal into a shape, and by
turning on a lathe. A pewtersmith might have also combined the methods, to suit
the type of piece or the result desired.
The pewter artisan
made his own molds and was, therefore, considered an artist rather than a
mechanic giving form to designs of others. The pewtersmith's mold repeats the
perfection or shortcomings of the original form.
fashion pewter in much the same manner as their predecessors. They craft each
piece individually from original molds designed by the artisan. Modern casting
molds are often made from silicone rubber rather than bronze. Hardwoods, such as
cherry and maple, are used to make the forms that are used to spin flat disks of
pewter into shapes on the lathe.
identified their work with a signature that was known as a Touchmark.
Touchmarks identified the artisan, the quality of his work, and
location of his shop. Today's artisan also identifies his work with his
Use and Care of Pewter
To keep a
beautiful bright, shiny, mirror-like finish, the American Pewter
Guild recommends a multi-metal polish used to clean brass, chrome,
and silver. You can find it in home-improvement, hardware, and grocery stores.
If your pewter has
a satin finish, with a softer, more mellow patina, wash it in warm soapy water,
rinse, and dry with a clean soft 100% cotton cloth to remove dust or finger
prints. Then rub lightly with 4/0 fine-grade steel wool, working in the
direction of the grain. An ultra fine Scotch-Brite™
pad works well also. Wash again with soapy water, rinse, and dry well.
Do not use steel
wool on an antique satin finish. It could affect the patina and decrease the
Pewter does not
withstand high temperatures. Do not use in a hot oven. High dishwasher
temperatures and harsh detergent may damage pewter. Be careful when handling.
Pewter may be damaged if dropped.
Pewter is not a
spectacular metal like silver and gold, and it certainly has none of the
delicacy of porcelain. But no other material compares to the simple, soft,
subdued texture and color of pewter. It blends well with richly carved
Renaissance oak in a mansion, or with simple pieces found in a country farmhouse
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