How you care for your pewter depends on the appearance you wish to achieve and maintain. In daily use, pewter was kept bright and polished and many collectors prefer this appearance. Pewter does not tarnish like silver, so a periodic clean with an all-purpose metal (not silver) polish will keep it looking bright.
Much old pewter is patinated and has a colour ranging from mellow silver to charcoal grey, a more ‘antique’ appearance favoured by many collectors, especially in Britain and Europe. See the website section on cleaning and polishing for more information on the care of this type of pewter.
Old and valuable pieces will also benefit from an application of good quality neutral wax polish to protect from oxidisation.
Most of our pewter is 19th century. Pub tankards, mugs and measures were made all over the country in the 19th century: although mass-produced crockery had largely taken over from metal plates and dishes, glass had not yet done the same for drinking vessels.
Hollow-ware comes in a variety of styles and the collector can amass a fascinating collection based on body shapes, handle designs and marks. Many mugs and beakers are also inscribed on the base or the body with the name of the pub or hotel where the item was used and often with the name or initials of the publican. This can be the start of a spin-off activity for collectors as they travel around to see if the pub still exists and research its history.
Of course, there were other items associated with this industry too – funnels, drainers, coasters, etc., all of which can still be found.
Domestic items were made from pewter too and the Victorians had a love of ornate forms which translated well into tablewares. Of course, silver was still the choice of the wealthy but the advent of Britannia metal, a form of pewter which could be worked on an industrial scale in the new factories and which could also be plated, meant that silver forms could be copied and the emerging middle and artisan classes could share in the new fashions. Sheffield became a centre for the production of these wares and the mark EPBM for electro-plated Britannia metal is often found on the bases of teapots, jugs, etc.
The new collector has a wealth of tea and coffee pots and associated wares to choose from with an excellent reference book Pewter Wares from Sheffield by Jack Scott (out of print, but can be found). Other centres of mass production were Birmingham and London
Candlesticks were made by many 19th century manufacturers and are a popular item for collectors. Although early forms are the most desirable, they are also rare and hugely expensive, making these later versions more desirable.
There are lots of other Sheffield-made pieces to collect, from tobacco jars to snuff and vesta boxes, pin-cushions to thimbles, vases, shaving mugs, cruets, ink-stands and even church flagons.
There are lots of examples of pewter wares from this period around. Few families have not had in their cupboards at one time or another beer mugs or parts of a pre-war pewter tea service. Many of these are good quality and aesthetically pleasing; however, the variety is limited and most collectors will look to earlier periods.
One such is the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A wealth of decorative and domestic items was produced in the art nouveau style with one British designer, Archibald Knox, being a significant contributor with his designs for the London store, Liberty’s. Items designed by Knox and others bear the ‘Tudric’ mark of Liberty’s and are becoming increasingly collectible.
The movement was, however, even more prominent in continental Europe and it is not difficult to find very attractive items from Kayserzinn, Orivit, Urania, WMF (Wurttembergische Metallwarenfabrik) – although one needs to be aware that the latter is still making pewter wares, often to earlier designs – and other German and French makers
There are no definitive books on pewter wares during this period, but many on contemporary designs or individual manufacturers, such as Knox and Liberty’s, which do include pewter.