Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Color Collaborative: February: Metal

18th century pewter shop, image from

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; fabric swatches from

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
CJ at Above the River
Sarah at mitenska will return next month
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.


  1. What an interesting post, I've heard that Colonial Williamsburg is fascinating, it's somewhere I'd love to see. You're right about pewter being household stuff, it's something that doesn't mind being used and left out. I have two Scandinavian pewter vases on my mantel. Nice, not fussy, just need a light duster over them from time to time. And affordable! As you say, it's understated and blends in well. My vases have a low shine to them, with the inset part of the pattern dark and non-shiny. It works well. Love the images you have found, and how you've set them off with squares of grey, really effective. CJ xx

  2. A really interesting post. I am suprised that the use of pewter went on for so long. I knew that it was in use in the 15th century here.

  3. I'd love to go to Colonial Williamsburg; lucky you going twice. I think R has a couple of pewter tankards lurking somewhere (probably in the loft!)- I'll have to try and dig them out. Love the pewter squirrel. xx

  4. Love the look of pewter, my husband has been collecting English pewter tankards for years and I have a collection of pewter teapots.

  5. Hey Jennifer,
    This was a very interesting post. I wonder if tin from Cornwall was used in the manufacture of American pewter?
    Leanne xx

  6. I love the colours above. Pewter always makes me think of the sun shining on wet pavements after a storm for some reason. This was fascinating though, thank you.

    (You know, I think I may have gone to Colonial Williamsburg while on a family holiday in 1993...I'll have to check with my mum!) xx

  7. I am a pewter fan too. I love the way it ages, the colour is soft. You have described it so well, I think colour is hard to describe, but you have done it X

  8. I read your pewter info with relish, I also love the metal, specifically the old pewter chargers and steins seen in colonial homes. That mug you showed made me swoon. I picked up a small pewter pitcher and two mugs years ago which I should get out and take some pictures of. I'm off to the hospital to pick up Dayle soon then to bring him home and make him comfortable. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  9. Another fascinating CC post - what an educational and interesting meme this is. My son rescued a half pint pewter tankard from my parents' house which may otherwise have been jettisoned and I'm so glad when I see it on his dresser. When we were on our honeymoon in Wales I bought a small pewter cask in which I keep locks of hair from my babies. It sits beside my bed and although the base is still shiny the hand embossed lid is becoming dull with the passage of time. It is one of my most special things.

  10. I love pewter and its patina over time and all the pewter-like colours, many of which I have around the house. We were given a gorgeous ribbed pewter bowl as a wedding present and we use it to keep our keys in! Fascinating post, Jennifer. Sam x

  11. While reading this interesting post I realized that I have lumped my negative feelings toward silver [too much polishing :) ] with my feelings toward pewter. While I have admired pewter objects, I have collected more stainless steel. I do like the pewter material you showed, I am fond of gray in some paint wall colors and yarn, and thanks to you I now appreciate pewter metal more! xx

  12. We went to Colonial Williamsburg about 8 years ago and really enjoyed it. We are planning to paint our living room soon and guess what color we have chosen? Revere Pewter!

  13. I love the colour and imagine a stunning accent wall painted in that colour with some pewter accessories a east for the eyes.

  14. ..that should read feast for the eyes...

  15. What an interesting post. It must have been fascinating visiting Colonial Williamsburg, and obviously very enjoyable since you visited a second time.

  16. What a great post. I love the warm shades of pewter. Such a popular metal once but sadly very little used today. Barbara

  17. such a beautiful range of colours, so much warmer than you'd expect of something metal and grey

  18. Silver isn't my favorite but I do like shiny silver jewelry and I saw a really cute dress in the window of a shop in the mall that was grey and ADORABLE (silvery)!
    I hope you are enjoying the weather this weekend, Jennifer!

  19. A fascinating post, Jennifer. I really enjoyed it. Pewter was a staple for house ware for centuries her in Britain and old pewter is highly sought after by collectors. Like you I like its subtle shades.


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