|18th century pewter shop, image from colonialsense.com|
When I was a teenager, I had the chance to visit Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum in Virginia. I loved it so much that the Bear and I went back on our honeymoon years later. It was just as good as I remembered and I really hope to visit again someday. One of my favorite things to see on both visits was the pewter collection. Pewter goods were important staples of colonial American life, with everything from dishes and cups to candlesticks and utensils made from this versatile metal. Pewter was a symbol of prosperity and a source of pride for many colonial households.
I was surprised to learn that pewter was in use long before the colonial era. It actually goes all the way back to the Bronze Age. There were pewter-making guilds in France by the 12th century, and in England by the 15th. This helped control the way different grades of pewter were used, usually having to do with whether they came into contact with food or drink. Pewter is a metal alloy comprised mostly of tin. It may also contain copper, antimony and bismuth. Historically, it often also contained lead. Pewter arrived in New England in the 1630's, and soon became very popular among the American colonists.
|Pewter cup from Victoria and Albert Museum collection|
Pewter articles are usually made by casting molten material in a mold, or by turning solid material on a lathe. American pewter is more rare than English because demand was very high in America, and pewtersmiths were often forced to melt down old pewter for recasting, or to repair broken pieces of old pewter to make new ones. Pewter was highly valuable; between 1720 and 1767, the value of pewter brought into America was greater than that of all silver, tinware and furniture imported during the same period! Three hundred tons of pewter came into the colonies during the 1760's alone. Porcelain (or "white ware") would soon take over the housewares market in the colonies, but for a few decades, pewter was all the rage.
|Pewter goods from various sources|
You can see why. It's durable and can be cast in intricate designs. It can be engraved or carved. The colors of pewter never go out of style, it seems. Stand in front of any paint-chip display and you'll see a wide range of gray-based shades that bring to mind the look of aged (or new) pewter articles. One of Benjamin Moore's most popular paint colors is Revere Pewter, a light silver-gray shade with a name straight out of colonial history. Pewter can be darkly tarnished or polished to a bright sheen. Its tones can be warm or cool, deep or pale.
|Dress by Modcloth.com; fabric swatches from Dwellstudio.com|
Pewter tones can be seen in home textiles, conveying a sense of depth and calm. I'd like it for couch upholstery, with brightly-colored accent pillows and a light-colored rug. It would be good for draperies too; I think the shantung material in the top fabric swatch would look very elegant on tall windows. Pewter is currently a popular shade in fashion as well, especially for bridesmaids' gowns and prom dresses. The color is everywhere, on bridal websites and Pinterest boards devoted to weddings. My bridesmaids wore the sugar-icing pastels popular at the turn of the millennium, but today I can see pewter tones on a bridal party; it's like black, but softer, more understated.
As metals go, I think pewter is more interesting than silver; the color is deeper and somewhat variegated, and it has a ruggedness that I appreciate. I think pewter may have been somewhat like the Tupperware of its time, but that's one of the things I like about it. Pewter is real household stuff, handsome and historic.
I learned a lot about pewter from Colonial Sense, the Website for All Things Colonial (it really is!).
Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below:
Annie at Annie Cholewa
Gillian at Tales from a happy house.
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.