What Is Pewter Made Of?

Updated February 21, 2017

Pewter is a metal alloy that was formerly used extensively in colonial America. Pewter is a mixture of other metals that is easily moulded. It is used today primarily for decorative purposes, with collectibles and figurines made out of this alloy.


Pewter is a metal alloy, or a blend of different metals combined to make one. Quantities of the metals are mixed together to produce the desired alloy. It takes two or more metals to make an alloy, with the end product having new characteristics such as colour, weight, melting points and others. Examples of other alloys are bronze, which is made from copper and tin, and brass, comprised of copper and zinc. In the case of pewter, the metals are tin and copper with other metals added depending on the type of pewter it is. Metals such as bismuth, lead and antimony are used in making pewter today.


Pewter is made according to what it is to be used for. Lead won't be an ingredient if the pewter is going to become plates or hollow ware, since lead is considered a carcinogen today and food should not have any lead exposure, no matter how slight. When the copper is added to tin it makes the final product softer and more easily worked into different shapes. The antimony in pewter is added to make it bright and nearly free of any tarnish. Pewtersmiths, people who work with pewter, have specific formulas today that they use in accordance to what plans they have for the pewter.


The oldest pewter found by archeologists goes all the way back to 1500BC in Egypt. It has been used in China for at least 2,000 years and in Japan for 1,100 years. Pewter was used quite a bit in Europe, with noblemen and lords possessing pewter plates and other pewter items in the 12th and 13th centuries. The pewter industry grew as the demand for pewter increased and craftsmen developed their own marks to denote the piece was made by them. In colonial times many things were pewter, from tankards and mugs to bedpans, bowls, plates, spoons and boxes. The advent of porcelain in the 18th century brought an end to the age of pewter.


The pewter that is manufactured today can last for decades if cared for in the proper manner. There is no lead in today's pewter. Those that collect pewter would prefer to see pieces that have been handled and worn some, as this gives them the appearance of something grown beautiful as it ages. Modern pewter, because of its make-up, can be cleaned with warm soapy water, rinsed, and then dried with a towel or soft cloth. It should never be placed in an automatic dishwasher. Pewter should also never be used as cookware, placed on the top of a stove, or used in an oven.


There is no truth to the urban legend that people in some sections of 16th century Europe thought that tomatoes were poisonous because of pewter. At the time, pewter dishes were used extensively for serving food. The acidic nature of tomatoes, when placed on a pewter plate, would cause the lead in the pewter to leach out. Supposedly the people that saw this thought that the tomatoes had to be highly toxic, not realising the properties of the acid and lead combined to cause the reaction. But there is no solid proof that this ever really occurred and that people stayed away from using tomatoes because of this.

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About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.