Humans have used pewter to manufacture objects for over 3,000 years. The earliest item made of pewter is a flask found in a grave at Abydos in Egypt, which is dated between 1580 and 1350BC. Pewter is an alloy of tin and other elements such as bismuth, lead and antimony. There are various methods used to date pewter items, too many to mention in a short article, or a whole book for that matter. We will discuss a selection of these methods using pewter spoons, a popular pewterware collector's item, as an example.
- Skill level:
Scrape a small flake of pewter from the pewterware item from an inconspicuous area. For instance, the inside of a cup or the underside of a spoon. Take the pewter flake to a laboratory and find out what elements compose the tin allow. A rough dating can be made by the chemical composition of pewter. Pewter from Roman times had 71.5 parts of tin for every 27.8 parts of lead, while French pewter in the sixteenth century CE had 112 parts of tin for every 26 parts of copper.
Check the style and design of the pewter item for dating telltale signs. For example, you can roughly date pewter spoons by the style of their stems. Hexagonal stems are characteristic of the spoons made before 1650, while hexagonal stems were made by the Dutch right up the mid-eighteenth century.
Check for quality marks, hallmarks, touches or other signatures that could help date the pewter item and compare with a catalogue specialising on the pewter item you are dating. For instance, if you find a pewter spoon has an "X" quality mark, you can confidently estimate the spoon as post-1694, while pewter spoons marked with touches, signature-style designs particular to a master craftsman, are more characteristic of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries CE.
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