Pewter is an alloy comprised of tin (91 percent to 97 percent) with antimony and copper. The more silver the color the higher the tin content is. Makers added antimony and copper for strength. Through the years, the different markers represented different things but mostly they were there for advertising. Each town and maker wanted people to return and buy their products. They created quality marks and went so far as to copy marks from the silver industry. Today these marks are used to date and price a piece of pewter.
Check the bottom or back of the pewter piece for a town mark. The town mark represents the town that produced the piece of pewter. Used before the 18th century, the marks were heraldic designs incorporated in a coat of arms. After the 18th century, town marks became part of the maker's mark.
Look for the rare quality marks that started appearing around the 16th century. Among the earliest marks was the crown with a rose. The ore angel Michael, holding a sword in one hand and a balance in another, did not appear until the 18th century. The quality marks are good to place an age on a piece. But, because rules and regulations did not exist, any maker could and did put quality stamps on the pewter.
Helpful in identifying pewter is the hallmark. In the 17th and 18th centuries, new pewter looked like silver. The pewter makers put hallmarks on their product similar to the silver hallmarks for city, date, duty and maker. The silver industry objected and outlawed it shortly after it began. However, the pewter makers ignored the law and continued the practice until well into the 18th century.
Starting in the 18th century were the “label” markers. These are in essence advertising marks and since London produced the best pewter, makers put “made in London” on their pewter whether they produced it in London or in some other area. Other markers designed to imply quality are “best English (French) tin” and “superfine hard metal”.
Verification marks on the ability to hold liquid for pewter vessels, implemented between 1826 and 1879, bore the name of the town of production. A standard mark of a crown, monarch initials and number code is on the more recent items.
Stamping catalog numbers on a completed item started in the 19th and 20th century. With the numbers came better record keeping. It is easier to pinpoint the date of manufacturing with the catalog numbers. The dates are listed in the books on antique pewter.
For more information on pewter, borrow a book on pewter markings from the library or purchase a book at a book store.
Vintage pewter may have lead mixed in the alloy. Do not use these products for eating and drinking. Lead in pewter will have a dark patina on it.
Addie Protivnak is at home in Coden, Ala., and has written internet how-to articles since 2008. Protivnak has published in the Master Gardener “Dirt” as well as the “Alabama Garden Pathways." She attended Faulkner State College where her course base was writing , literature and art.