A Short History of Pewter Flatware and Tableware

The history of pewter flatware and tableware is interesting and goes back many generations. Pewter was developed thousands of years ago, most likely the result of an accident. Pewter is a metal alloy, or mixture of two or more metals. A metal alloy has characteristics that the parent metals do not have. In pewter's case, the alloy consists of at least 51% tin. In days gone by, one of the metals added was lead, making pewter a potentially lethal base material. Today, lead is replaced with antimony, bismuth, or a combination of both antimony and bismuth.

The oldest pewter known today was found in Egypt and was probably made around 3,500 years ago. Pewter may have been one of the reasons that the Romans invaded Britain. England had tin, copper (also a common ingredient in pewter) and lead mines. By the 12th and 13th centuries, pewter tableware graced the tables of Europe's nobility. During the Middle Ages, pewter was England's second-largest export, following wool. Ultimately, pewter tableware was enjoyed by those with much lower incomes than that of the nobility.

The introduction of porcelain and pottery during the 18th century heralded the beginning of the end of pewter tableware. Even so, pewter continued to be used for decorative purposes. Artists and craftsmen during the Arts and Crafts Period and the Art Nouveau Period used pewter and achieved glorious results. Today, pewter is still valued for its beauty and flexibility.

Interesting pewter facts:

There used to be three grades of pewter: fine, trifle and lay or ley. Lay pewter contained up to 15% lead. Fortunately, it was not used for tableware. Fine pewter contained 99% tin and 4% copper and trifle contained about 92% tin and roughly 4% copper. Trifle could also contain up to 4% lead. Both fine and trifle grades were used eating utensils, plates and other tableware.

Some experts believe that not as many ancient or antique pewter artifacts remain today because of pewter's low melting point. Many worn out pieces may have been simply melted down and made into other items.

Pewter follows gold, silver and platinum as the fourth most precious metal.

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