Pewter is a soft metal used since Ancient Egyptian times for decorative pieces such as tableware and jewelry. Pewter is an alloy of tin and lead (and sometimes copper) and a highly collectible metal. The softness of pewter makes it ideal for decorative work. Pewter was often melted down and used to make bullets. This makes finding genuine antique pewter a bit of a struggle. Antique dealers, auctioneers and collectors alike need to know the item they have is really pewter. Test for pewter by testing for lead or silver content.
Testing for Lead
Purchase a lead testing kit from the local hardware store. Check the label to ensure the kit is appropriate for testing jewelry and tableware.
Combine the chemicals in the lead testing kit following the detailed instructions on the label. Always wear protective gloves when handling lead testing chemicals.
Swab a small area of the metal using the test kit chemicals and wait for a color change in the test area. Red or pink indicates lead content.
Wash pewter and suspected pewter with soap and water after performing a lead test.
Other Ways to Test for Pewter
Scratch suspected pewter with a pin. If there is a mark, it's probably pewter. If there is no mark but it looks like pewter, it's most likely silver or silver plate. Be sure to perform the scratch test so the resulting mark does not detract from the piece.
Use a silver testing kit to distinguish pewter from silver. Carefully follow the instructions on the label. The kit includes nitric acid which will have a visible effect on pewter but not on silver. Use the acid sparingly and rinse away as soon as possible.
Check the suspected pewter item for hallmarks and maker's marks. In most cases modern pewter is marked “PEWTER.” For older pieces certain jeweler's marks may indicate the pewter quality.
Store pewter in acid free tissue paper in a low humidity environment.
Purchase metal testing kits from home improvement stores.
Lead is toxic to humans and should always be handled with care.