Pewter is a malleable metal alloy, traditionally 85â€“99% tin, with the remainder consisting of copper, antimony, bismuth and lead. Copper and antimony act as hardeners while lead is common in the lower grades of pewter, which have a bluish tint. It has a low melting point, around 170â€“230 Â°C (338â€“446Â°F), depending on the exact mixture of metals. The word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter, a colloquial name for zinc.
Pewter items are often found in churches. Use of pewter was common from the Middle Ages up until the various developments in glass-making during the 18th and 19th centuries. Pewter was the chief tableware until the making of porcelain. Contrary to urban legend, the use of lead-containing pewter tableware was unrelated to the mistrust of tomatoes as a foodstuff in Northern Europe during the 16th century. Mass production of glass products has seen glass universally replace pewter in day-to-day life. Pewter artifacts continue to be produced, mainly as decorative or specialty items. Pewter was also used around East Asia. Although some items still exist, Ancient Roman pewter is rare.
“Unlidded” mugs and lidded tankards may be the most familiar pewter artifacts from the late 17th and 18th centuries, although the metal is also used for many other items including porringers, plates, dishes, basins, spoons, measures, flagons, communion cups, teapots, sugar bowls, beer steins and cream jugs. In the early 19th century, changes in fashion caused a decline in the use of pewter flatware; however, there was increased production of both cast and spun pewter tea sets, as well as whale-oil lamps, candlesticks, etc. Later in the century, pewter alloys were often used as a base metal for silver-plated objects.
Today, pewter is used in decorative objects, mainly collectible statuettes and figurines, game figures, aircraft and other models, (replica) coins, pendants and so on. Certain athletic contests, such as the United States Figure Skating Championships, award pewter medals to the fourth place finishers.