Used for the production of household and other items in Britain since Roman times, pewter is an alloy consisting mostly of tin which has been mixed with small amounts of other metals such as copper, lead or antimony to harden it and make it more durable.
By the 15th century, the Worshipful Company of Pewterers controlled pewter constituents in England. This company originally had two grades of pewter. The first type, known as “fine metal”, was used for tableware. It consisted of tin with as much copper as it could absorb, which is about 1%. The second type, known as “trifling metal” or “trifle”, was used for holloware and is made up of fine metal with approximately 4% lead. In the 16th century a third grade was added for items that were not in contact with food or drink. It consisted of tin with 15% lead. Ancient pewter contained darkened greatly with age, and the lead readily leached out in contact with acidic foods.
During the 17th and 18th centuries pewter would have been found in every household. Jugs, plates, buttons, pilgrim badges, tankards, wine cups, inkwells, candlesticks and spoons are just some of the many items for which it was used.
Pewter from the 17th and 18th centuries was made from an alloy of tin with a small percentage of lead to harden the metal. With current understanding of the effect of heavy metals such as lead on the body, it is not advisable to use them for drinking purposes. If antique pewter has become very dark, experts from the Antique profession STRONGLY RECOMMEND against re-polishing as this could actually reduce the value.
Towards the end of the 18th century a new alloy called Britannia metal was discovered which could be used for large scale manufacture of teapots and tankards through its ability to be rolled pressed and worked on wooden formers and cold stamped. Up to then pewter had been cast in expensive moulds. This change in tooling with Britannia metal gave resurgence to the industry and new centres were created in Sheffield and Birmingham.
As Britannia metal is an alloy of tin, antimony and copper there are no restrictions on its use for drinking. All pewter of modern manufacture meets the same standard.
From the mid nineteenth century pewter alloys were often used as a base metal for silver plated objects.
Royal Selangor designers and artisans continuously expand the limits of pewter design while staying true to the heritage of craftsmanship. Design collaborators include the award-winning Erik Magnussen and Jamy Yang as well as cultural organisations such as the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum).
Modern pewter is about 91 percent tin, 7.5 percent antimony, and 1.5 percent copper; the absence of lead makes it safe to use for dishes and drinking vessels. The surface of modern pewter is bluish white with either a crisp, bright finish or a soft, satin sheen. It resists tarnish, retaining its colour and finish indefinitely.
Pewter is perfect for everyday use and with the minimum of care it can retain its wonderful finish . It should be NEVER be washed in a dishwasher (the chemicals in the detergent will react with the pewter and ruin the finish). For this reason we recommend washing by hand in hot soapy water and dried with a soft cloth. When drying your pewter, keep the direction of the cloth in a straight up and down motion, never in circles. Pewter is a soft metal and will easily scratch with a hard cloth.