The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Pewter working

 

The working of pewter (an alloy of tin and copper or bismuth) by casting, moulding, spinning, pressing, rolling or hand forming.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Metal
Historic area of significance Sheffield, Birmingham, London, Bewley
Area currently practised  Sheffield and Birmingham
Origin in the UK  Roman
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  101-200
Current no. of trainees  30
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  201-500
Current total no. of craftspeople  201-500

 

History

Pewter working is one of the oldest manufacturing industries in the world which is still in commercial production and dates from the bronze age. However little archaeological evidence exists due to the low melting point, meaning old pieces were melted down when fashion changed rather than discarded. The industry was significant in the Roman period and certainly existed in the UK at that time.

The Pewterers Company was established in 1348. For two centuries from 1474 pewter was unrivalled as a material for plates, dishes, drinking vessels and similar ware. From the sixteenth century the indispensable preliminary for a Freeman setting up as a Master Pewterer and opening his own shop was to record his ‘touch’ or trade mark on large pewter sheets retained by the Company in the Hall. The early touch plates were lost in the Great Fire; the five that survive today record the marks of Master Pewterers from then until the beginning of the nineteenth century when the Company no longer exercised the power to enforce this regulation. These plates provide a unique record of pewterers of the period, containing over 1,000 individual marks and are of great historical value. A new touch plate was introduced in March 2000.

The prosperity of the trade may be said to have reached its zenith in the late seventeenth century. Thereafter, partly because society’s drinking habits changed following the introduction of tea to this country and partly because the industrial revolution introduced new techniques and the use of alternative materials, the trade steadily declined. By the late eighteenth century the number of those in the Company who actually followed the trade was small. Pewter underwent a brief renaissance during the Art Nouveau movement.

Pewter working is historically associated with London and Bewley, with other centres in Birmingham, Sheffield and parts of Cornwall where tin was mined.

 

Techniques

Pewter craftsmen fall into different skill sets, with craftsmen typically specialising in a single skill. These include: alloying, rolling, spinning, soldering, metalsmithing, buffing, polishing, casting, mould making, engraving and finishing. Further details can be found here.

 

Local forms

The form of pewter work carried out in Sheffield is historically unique to Sheffield in that the pewter is worked from sheets rather than cast in moulds.

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training and recruitment
  • Declining demand for typical (standard) products
  • Declining demand for pewter product – pewter is not as fashionable as it was (although its popularity is increasing with promotions such as Pewter Live)
  • Competition from abroad – pewter ware is labour intensive to produce (although it is still produced on fairly large scale with three family run factories (staff of 5-20 at each) and several independent craftspeople.)

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

A list of existing pewter manufactures can be found on the website of the Association of British Pewter Workers.

 

Other information

 

References