Pewter was one of the most common materials used to make plates and drinking vessels in the 16th century, until it was slowly phased out of practice with advances in the creation of porcelain and the increased ease of glassmaking. Many antiques collectors will pay top dollar for authentic pewter items from this era, but how can you tell if that tankard sitting in your grandmother's closet is worth anything or not? Here's a few tips to help you figure it out.
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Take a close look at the bowl, dish or drinking vessel you're investigating. Because pewter is essentially tin, alloyed with lead or copper, it will have a bright silver appearance when it is first created. Over time, this sheen will dull to grey. If your item still has a bright silvery shine, it is probably not old enough to be from the Middle Ages.
Search the object in question for "touch-marks" or other significant quality marks, such as the Pewterer's Guild lilypot or the "rose and crown" often placed on items at that time, which were to be exported.
Take extreme care when handling a tankard with a thumb-piece, since if it is the genuine article, could well be one of the earliest and most valuable pewter objects. Tankards with a slight upwards taper with straight sides are among the earliest known pewter creations, while those with footed rims or handles are probably not going to fetch you a pretty penny.
Pay special attention to the smaller items like inkwells and coasters. These pewter objects may also have high value, but only if they have decorative features. Objects with artistic embellishment simply aren't likely to be of any extremely significant value.
Find a certified antique dealer in your area if you believe you have unearthed a pewter item from the 16th century. They'll be able to give you a ballpark figure of what such a find will be worth in the current market.
Tips and warnings
- Royal Selangor pewter from Malaysia is one of the world's leading producers of pewter items and do not have near the same value as the pre-1800 items from Europe.
- The lead content of pewter plates could possibly lead to lead poisoning if used over a long period of time. It's not a good idea to feast upon plates made of pewter.