Pewter
Overview
 
Pewter is a malleable
Ductility
In materials science, ductility is a solid material's ability to deform under tensile stress; this is often characterized by the material's ability to be stretched into a wire. Malleability, a similar property, is a material's ability to deform under compressive stress; this is often characterized...

 metal
Metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

 alloy
Alloy
An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

, traditionally 85–99% tin
Tin
Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn and atomic number 50. It is a main group metal in group 14 of the periodic table. Tin shows chemical similarity to both neighboring group 14 elements, germanium and lead and has two possible oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4...

, with the remainder consisting of copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, antimony
Antimony
Antimony is a toxic chemical element with the symbol Sb and an atomic number of 51. A lustrous grey metalloid, it is found in nature mainly as the sulfide mineral stibnite...

, bismuth
Bismuth
Bismuth is a chemical element with symbol Bi and atomic number 83. Bismuth, a trivalent poor metal, chemically resembles arsenic and antimony. Elemental bismuth may occur naturally uncombined, although its sulfide and oxide form important commercial ores. The free element is 86% as dense as lead...

 and lead
Lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

. Copper and antimony act as hardeners while lead is common in the lower grades of pewter, which have a bluish tint. It has a low melting point
Melting point
The melting point of a solid is the temperature at which it changes state from solid to liquid. At the melting point the solid and liquid phase exist in equilibrium. The melting point of a substance depends on pressure and is usually specified at standard atmospheric pressure...

, around 170–230 °C (338–446°F), depending on the exact mixture of metals. The word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter
Spelter
Spelter, while sometimes used merely as a synonym for zinc, is often used to identify a zinc alloy. In this sense it might be an alloy of equal parts copper and zinc, i.e. a brass, used for hard soldering and brazing, or as an alloy, containing lead, that is used instead of bronze...

, a colloquial name for zinc
Zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

.
Pewter was first used around the beginning of the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 in the Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

.
Encyclopedia
Pewter is a malleable
Ductility
In materials science, ductility is a solid material's ability to deform under tensile stress; this is often characterized by the material's ability to be stretched into a wire. Malleability, a similar property, is a material's ability to deform under compressive stress; this is often characterized...

 metal
Metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

 alloy
Alloy
An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

, traditionally 85–99% tin
Tin
Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn and atomic number 50. It is a main group metal in group 14 of the periodic table. Tin shows chemical similarity to both neighboring group 14 elements, germanium and lead and has two possible oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4...

, with the remainder consisting of copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, antimony
Antimony
Antimony is a toxic chemical element with the symbol Sb and an atomic number of 51. A lustrous grey metalloid, it is found in nature mainly as the sulfide mineral stibnite...

, bismuth
Bismuth
Bismuth is a chemical element with symbol Bi and atomic number 83. Bismuth, a trivalent poor metal, chemically resembles arsenic and antimony. Elemental bismuth may occur naturally uncombined, although its sulfide and oxide form important commercial ores. The free element is 86% as dense as lead...

 and lead
Lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

. Copper and antimony act as hardeners while lead is common in the lower grades of pewter, which have a bluish tint. It has a low melting point
Melting point
The melting point of a solid is the temperature at which it changes state from solid to liquid. At the melting point the solid and liquid phase exist in equilibrium. The melting point of a substance depends on pressure and is usually specified at standard atmospheric pressure...

, around 170–230 °C (338–446°F), depending on the exact mixture of metals. The word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter
Spelter
Spelter, while sometimes used merely as a synonym for zinc, is often used to identify a zinc alloy. In this sense it might be an alloy of equal parts copper and zinc, i.e. a brass, used for hard soldering and brazing, or as an alloy, containing lead, that is used instead of bronze...

, a colloquial name for zinc
Zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

.

History

Pewter was first used around the beginning of the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 in the Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

. The earliest piece of pewter found is from an Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 tomb from 1450 BC.

Types

The constituents of pewter were first controlled in the 12th century by town guilds in France. By the 15th century, the Worshipful Company of Pewterers
Worshipful Company of Pewterers
The Worshipful Company of Pewterers is a livery company of the United Kingdom. It is 16th in the order of precedence of livery companies. It has existed since at least 1348....

 controlled pewter constituents in England. This company originally had two grades of pewter, but in the 16th century a third grade was added. The first type, known as "fine metal", was used for flatware. 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
Holloware
Holloware is a term that refers to table service items such as sugar bowls, creamers, coffee pots, teapots, soup tureens, hot food covers, water pitchers, platters, butter pat plates and other metal items that went with the china on a table. It does not include flatware. Holloware was constructed...

. It is made up of fine metal with approximately 4% lead. The last type of pewter, known as "lay" or "ley" metal, was used for items that were not in contact with food or drink. It consisted of tin with 15% lead. These three alloys were used, with little variation, until the 20th century.

Modern pewters must contain at least 90% tin and be alloyed with copper, antimony, or bismuth to be considered a pewter. Lead is commonly no longer permitted to be an alloying element. Older pewters with higher lead content are heavier, tarnish faster, and oxidation
Redox
Redox reactions describe all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed....

 gives them a darker silver-grey color.

A typical European casting alloy contains 94% tin, 1% copper, and 5% antimony. A European pewter sheet would contain 92% tin, 2% copper, and 6% antimony. Asian pewter, produced mostly in Malaysia, Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, and Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, contains a higher percentage of tin, usually 97.5% tin, 1% copper, and 1.5% antimony. This makes the alloy slightly softer.

Uses

Pewter items are often found in churches. Use of pewter was common from the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 up until the various developments in glass-making during the 18th and 19th centuries. Pewter was the chief tableware until the making of porcelain. Contrary to urban legend, the use of lead-containing pewter tableware was unrelated to the mistrust of tomatoes as a foodstuff in Northern Europe during the 16th century. Mass production of glass products has seen glass universally replace pewter in day-to-day life. Pewter artifacts continue to be produced, mainly as decorative or specialty items. Pewter was also used around East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

. Although some items still exist, Ancient Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 pewter is rare.

"Unlidded" mugs and lidded tankard
Tankard
A tankard is a form of drinkware consisting of a large, roughly cylindrical, drinking cup with a single handle. Tankards are usually made of silver, pewter, or glass, but can be made of other materials, for example wood, ceramic or leather. A tankard may have a hinged lid, and tankards featuring...

s may be the most familiar pewter artifacts from the late 17th and 18th centuries, although the metal is also used for many other items including porringer
Porringer
A porringer is a small dish from which Europeans and colonial Americans ate their gruel or porridge, or other soft foods.Porringers were shallow bowls, between 4" to 6" in diameter, and 1½" to 3" deep; the form originates in the medieval period in Europe and they were made in wood, ceramic, pewter...

s, plates, dishes, basins, spoons, measures, flagons, communion cups, teapots, sugar bowls, beer stein
Beer stein
Beer stein , or simply stein, is an English neologism for either traditional beer mugs made out of stoneware, or specifically ornamental beer mugs that are usually sold as souvenirs or collectibles...

s and cream jugs. In the early 19th century, changes in fashion caused a decline in the use of pewter flatware; however, there was increased production of both cast and spun pewter tea sets, as well as whale-oil lamps, candlesticks, etc. Later in the century, pewter alloys were often used as a base metal for silver-plated
Electroplating
Electroplating is a plating process in which metal ions in a solution are moved by an electric field to coat an electrode. The process uses electrical current to reduce cations of a desired material from a solution and coat a conductive object with a thin layer of the material, such as a metal...

 objects.

Today, pewter is used in decorative objects, mainly collectible statuettes and figurines, game figures, aircraft and other models, (replica) coins, pendants and so on. Certain athletic contests, such as the United States Figure Skating Championships
United States Figure Skating Championships
The United States Figure Skating Championships is figure skating competition held annually to crown the national champions of the United States. The competition is sanctioned by U.S. Figure Skating. In the U.S. skating community, the event is often referred to informally as "Nationals".Skaters...

, award pewter medals to the fourth place finishers.
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