Often used in vases, containers, platters and decorative ornaments, pewter can be fairly easily identified as long as you look at its texture, colour, tint and tarnish. Though it gained most of its popularity in the Middle Ages, pewter is still used today, but mostly in a decorative, and not practical forum. Glass, plastic, porcelain and other materials have replaced pewter in many dining sets.
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Things you need
Examine the object under some light to see how much or little it shines. Silver, which is often mistaken for pewter, will produce a bright appearance that resembles a distorted mirror. Pewter on the other hand, will produce a dull shine that is darker in appearance. It reflects light in much the same way that fog or smoke would reflect sunlight or a flashlight.
Look at the object's colour. Being made of many different metals, namely tin, antimony and copper, pewter's colour can look more muddled than other metals, often taking on a darker grey appearance.
Understand what kinds of items are normally made out of pewter in order to more easily identify this metal. Throughout history, pewter has been most commonly used in kitchen and dining ware. Teapots, kettles, spoons, candlesticks, serving trays, bowls, vases, platters and steins are some of the most common items made of pewter.
Examine the object's appearance. Pewter tends to scratch easily, and therefore takes on a more opaque, muddled or dulled appearance than many other metals, such as tin, silver, aluminium or brass, would. Because pewter has been used for centuries, many artefacts made of pewter will obviously also show the natural wear and tear of the years.
Touch the object's surface. If it feels uneven, rough or semi-textured that's a good sign that it's pewter. The surface may feel like you're running your fingers over a dirty surface or a surface that has had a thick substance caked on it.
Polish the object's surface. If most of the dirt or debris wipes away to produce a clean shine, the object is probably not pewter. If you polish the object and it produces a brighter, but not necessarily cleaner appearance, that may be pewter.
Push down on the object's surface to gauge how much the metal gives. Pewter is a soft metal, and is easier to bend and shape than most others. Therefore, if the object's surface feels soft or malleable it may be pewter.
Tips and warnings
- If you really can't tell whether an object is pewter, take it to an antique store or metal worker. Either should be able to easily identify it.