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About Pewter - Yesterday and Today
~ History of Pewter
The rich history of pewter goes back before ancient history, where the pewter alloy was one of the earliest to be used by the ancients to fashion articles of function and value. Greeks, Chinese and the fables Roman Empire all used pewter in their daily and royal lives. The pewter that we today are most familiar with has its roots in Europe and Great Britain around the 11th century.
As the known world began to slowly emerge from the dark ages, one of the signs that an area was becoming more civilized was the manufacture of pewter-ware. Time passed and more wealth was acquired, people became more sophisticated, thereby demanding objects of artistic form and worthwhile function. The craft of pewter smiting filled this need most completely and the craft continued to be refined all over Europe. The art of pewter smiting and its resultant popularity flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries and reached its zenith in the late 1800’s when mechanization took over.
The old world’s great affection for pewter was carried to the new world by our earliest settlers and pioneers. These hardy folk counted pewter articles as possessions indicating wealth. The cherished articles were often the last remaining “tie” to the old world. Pewter articles came from all corners of the world, eventually being adopted and influencing the production of our American pewter. Each land and ethnic enclave has contributed its own special style to our heritage of fine pewter. Although the cherished articles of pewter may have suffered through use and time, many fine articles are yet to be found that have contributed to the heritage of our pewter today.
~ Pewter of Today by ‘Old World Pewter’
Today the artisans of ‘Old World Pewter’ are continuing the traditions and techniques established centuries ago by the ancient Old World pewter-smiths. They are continuing to bring forth and recreate works of both utilitarian and artistic purpose. Most of the production pieces have been handed down from earlier times or have been carefully re-created using research conducted in both Europe and the U.S. In particular they seek out old pattern pieces from defunct foundries and bring them into the collection. In addition, pewter styles are located that are examples of the heritage and lore of pewter. These articles may well have been cherished heirlooms that have been handed down for generations or a part of private collections that have only come to public attention of late.
The charge of ‘Old World Pewter’ is to maintain respect for the ancient techniques of pewter-smiting; while insuring that the finest quality and purity of pewter is used in the production of articles that will reflect our rich pewter heritage. Where time and use may have given a particular piece more character, they take great care to replicate this heirloom article for use today and an heirloom of tomorrow.
~ The Imitators
As with any object that has beauty, quality and value; there will be cheap shoddy imitations that attempt to trade on the reputation of the authentic article. In pewter, these imitations are touted as Pewter-like, pewter-ish, pewter finish, pewter washed, similar to, looks-just-like, etc. Authentic pewter does not need or have a pre-fix or a suffix, it stands alone: PEWTER.
The imitations of pewter are made from substitute, cheap materials that have all sorts of metals mixed up in an attempt to duplicate the look of authentic pewter. These materials cannot come close to achieving the beauty of pewter. Most often they are very light in weight and have some odd looking surfaces that are grainy, too shiny or a flat lackluster shade of battleship gray. These are signs of imitation pewter. It is especially important to avoid the imitators of authentic pewter for they may contain metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, or other heavy, toxic metals. These can cause a serious health risks. Moreover, these imitations do not have the real, monitory or intrinsic value of authentic pewter. Always insist on authentic pewter, look for pewter stamp and if even in doubt…ask.
~ Pewter – Casting the “Old” Way
The process of creating an “Old World Pewter” item will oftentimes begin with a drawing or an artistic rendering from history books or old catalogs of pewter ware. And when the artisans are lucky enough they would have the old pattern piece (or mold) and sometimes the original article. No matter the origin they have to break down the various component parts. The body of the piece is different than the spout or the handle, or base, or lids, etc. They then create a pattern in specially selected and prepared sand molds. Both the reverse and obverse of each piece is created and carefully crafted cores are fashioned for the insides of pieces such as pots, vases, drinking vessels, etc. The initial sand casting are made and assembled to be certain of fit and quality. The sand casting process insures that the article is faithfully recreated according to the time-honored methods of handwork. The special skill and patience of the sand caster is employed to be certain that the casting is thorough and solid. Special skill, plus an innate understanding of the properties of the molten metal are critical to the proper execution of the gravity method of sand casting. When the piece is properly cooled, the carefully crafted sand mold has to be destroyed to remove the piece. To cast another article, the process begins again. The components of multi piece articles are assembled and soldered to bring forth the finished article by craftsmen through a series of movements called “chasing”. These techniques include the soldering, etching and fitting of the various parts. The final steps in the finishing process create that special antique look and feel that is exclusively a part of the beauty of authentic ‘Old World Pewter’.