Pewter is an alloy which means it is composed of more than one metal. It is mostly made of tin, but on its own tin would be too soft to manage so hardening agents are also added to strengthen it. Typically, the tin content of pewter is between 85% - 95% and the remaining composition can vary but includes antimony, copper and silver.
Pewter can be traced back in history through Egyptian, Roman and Medieval times. During some of these periods pewter also contained Lead. This gave the pewter which was very often used for tableware and cutlery, an aged or darker look and in time this could get even darker. The pewter produced today is in the main lead free, giving it a brighter, shinier look more akin to silver.
It has been suggested that in medieval times the consumption of copious amounts of ale drunk from pewter tankards which contained lead, and due in the main to the water being undrinkable, was a factor in a shorter life span, lead of course being poison.
Whilst you can still buy new pewter items that have that aged or darkened look, this is because they have been through an additional process after the initial production called blackening. The contrast of the blackened areas against the original shine adds extra depth and definition to an item.
Whilst the traditional pewter tankard continues to have a place in our history and heritage, today pewter is being used in many more versatile ways. It is an easy metal to work with and it has certainly earnt its standing in the British gift and home sector. Furthermore, it features heavily in art galleries across the country where award winning artists are focusing on more contemporary and inspirational designs.
Pewter items are solid pewter which makes them ideal for engraving unlike some other metals which are often plated and reveal a different colour underneath the top layer during the engraving process. One other key thing that sets Pewter apart from other metals is that is does not tarnish.
Taking Care of Pewter
Looking after our modern day pewter is really very simple due to the fact that it does not tarnish. Very often, all that is required is a wipe with a soft cloth. Warm, soapy water and a soft damp cloth can also be used if a deeper clean is required. Towel dry the item after washing.
Take extra care with finer pewter items and with jewellery as the metal can be soft and malleable if treated with a heavy hand. Whilst wearing other metals on your skin can sometimes leave a stain or a dark mark, fine pewter is widely known as being much less likely to do this than other metals.