Pewter is an alloy, composed of tin with varying quantities of hardening agents such as copper, antimony and bismuth. Lead was used as an additive in the past but it is much less common now.
Pewter was used in the ancient world, by the Egyptians, Romans and other civilizations and came into existence in Europe during medieval times. It was a popular alloy because it has a very low melting point and is therefore relatively easy to cast and to work. Unfortunately, little pewter from early periods survives today because damaged and worn vessels were simply melted down and recycled.
In the 17th century, a variation of traditional pewter appeared in Britain. This contained antimony, which was used to strengthen the alloy. This became the ‘golden age’ of pewter-making and many fine examples of the craft can still be seen today.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the Vickers Company in Sheffield developed an alloy that contained tin, antimony and copper, which could be rolled and pressed, allowing mass production of items. This alloy became known as Britannia Metal.
Pewter is currently undergoing a renaissance, with many items being produced for decorative rather than utilitarian purposes.
The pewter I use is environmentally friendly, comprising 95% tin, 0.5% copper and 4.5% antimony. It is certified ‘lead free’ and complies with the requirements of British Standard 5140. Tin is in plentiful supply as a metal and the alloy is non-toxic. Unlike silver, pewter does not need polishing and it does not tarnish.