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A Short History of Pewter Tankards

27 Jul

INTRODUCTION.

Some time ago,in fact, it was the year 1970 that I became interested in Antiques,so much so that I wanted to study them. I began my research into the art of Ceramics and soon realised there was much to learn about this particular subject so I decided to enrol into the evening classes where Henry Sandon  “Antiques Roadshow”  was lecturing about Ceramics from the 12th to the 20th Centuries.This began for me as a hobby but I will come back to this subject at a later date, because todays post is about Pewter Tankards.

Nothing looks better than pewter on old oak furntiture. Pewter looks right with it. Take any black oak sideboard or dresser and try a couple of pieces of silver on it. No? Well what about a pair of brass candlesticks. Yes that looks better you may think,but now try a couple of pewter tankards and you will see what I mean.

Pewter is a delightfully warm,friendly alloy. If champagne should always be drunk from a silver tankard,then beer should be drunk from a pewter one,ideally with a glass bottom,so you can see if any enemy comes through the door while you are drinking;We are talking about past days of course. Or as another version has it so that if the recruiting sergeant or the press-gang leader drops the monarch’s shilling into your mug you will spot it before you finish your beer and will not find yourself an unwilling conscript. 

The first English pewter is Romano-British and dates back as far as the year 400 B.C. Then suddenly, for no apparent reason,this delightful alloy,comprising 90 per cent Cornish tin and 10 per cent lead,copper or antimony,fell out of favour and did not make its re-appearence until the 14th century.Pewter tankards began to make an appearence during the 16th century..

Charles ll,as one of his many methods of aquiring wealth without recourse to Parliament ,took to annexing the silver of his nobles,who tended to replace it with pewter, rather than risk losing the replacements the next time the King came to dinner.It was, however some years before the merry monarch ascended the throne,about 1635 in fact, that pewterers began to use marks, in addition to their own touch marks,which are very similar to silver hallmarks-causing therby  much wrath and so little litigation on the part of the Goldsmiths’ Company.

Tankards,flagons and similar items are, however, datable by shape, and any markings which provide confirmation and additional information are all things to look for if you are contemplating starting a collection. As a matter of fact,the touchplates recording the touchmarks of pewterers before 1666 were lost in the great fire of London.

The earliest pewter tankards were squatt,straight- sided and tapered upwards,with flat lids,usually hinged with ornamental thumbpieces,although even more desirable pieces were made at the same time with cylindrical instead of tapered form.

Towards the end of the 17th century ,lidless tankards also put in an appearance,designed for ale-houses , and many of those which servive today carry engraved on the body the name of the hostelry they adorned .A century later  an American living in London recorded that it was possible to send to the pub for beer,which would be brought by the servant of the ” tap-house”, complete with pewter mugs bearing the owners name,and that each morning the same servant would go from house to house  collecting the mugs, which he strung on a leather strap for ease of transport.

Coming back to the earliest tankards, the flat covers were sometimes embellished with saw-tooth serrations at the front,so that when the domed cover came into vogue at about 1690,this practice was continued, and remained until the beginning of the second decade of the 18th century. About the time that these serrations were unfavourable the plain drum of the tankard gained the embellishment of a fillet moulding about two thirds down its body. which remained until around 1725,when the straight- sided tankard  began to be replaced in public favour of the bell and tulip shapes. These shapes were especially popular in the West of England,and Howard Cotterell’s Old Pewter, Its Makers and Marks(Published by Batsford,London in 1929 and reprinted in 1963), which has been regarded as the pewter collector’s Bible for many years remarks that 80 per cent of early tulip tankards bore the touch-marks of pewterers from either Bristol or Exeter.

It did not take long for these new shapes to catch on,and although the domed lid fell out of use at about 1775, the tulip and bell shape remained in favour right through the 19th century, getting even more swag-bellied as time passed. Glass bottoms appeared about 1895.

A  ten and a quarter inch cylindrical lidded flagon with scroll handle and open shaped thumb piece and domed cover.It dates from the first half of the 17th century. The bulbous shape next to it suggests its 18th century date and is probably German.

 A lovely wine flagon(“Kelchkanne”) by Jacob Valin of Geneva,the collar surmounted by a heart- shaped cover with a twin- acorn thumbpiece. This mid 17th century flagon height 9 3/4″ changed hands at an auction on June 19th in 1973 for 200 pounds. I guess the value has risen substantually since then.

 

Above a 7″ William and Mary tankard c 1790 with the makers mark ” I. B ” and a good flat lidded flagon by “W .W”  c1690. The William and Mary tankard sold for 250 pounds and the flagon 540 pounds on June 19th 1973. 

 Anyone wishing to collect pewter today will have to search for bargains which sometimes can be found at car boot sales or antique fairs, but before you do, research your item thoroughly there are plenty of books on all subjects to do with the antique world.  Check my blog for further post about the recognition of antiques.

With regards to the cleaning of old pewter tankards is simple and logical.If it is going to be used,it has to be cleaned.If it is purely for ornamentation it is not necessary -and with a really old piece it is downright foolish Why! because you will remove the patina it has aquired over the years,just a gentle wipe over with a soft cloth will suffice..However major cleaning jobs should be done by experts.

As regards to the future, and the present less wealthy collector,Victorian pub tankards,with the name of the pub usually engraved on the bottom,though once despised are going up in price but worth while collecting, also as the supply of pewter gets smaller,and correspondingly more expensive,Brittania Metal must surely now be an antique of the future.

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13 Comments

Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Antiques

 

13 responses to “A Short History of Pewter Tankards

  1. carlos

    August 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Hi Rita,
    As always I enjoy your posts and this, on Pewter Tankards, no less. I have a contemporary copy, which seems to make my brew taste just a bit better. I’ll be on the lookout for another.
    I thought you might be interested in a recent post:

    I am too old to make on-campus education cost effective. However, I have an insatiable curiosity to “know” stuff. Fortunately, I have an ability to learn from books and now distance education has become a viable idea.

    When I was first at school, I was often distracted by peripheral events (girls, the Viet Nam war, beer, the culture of the 1960’s, and the intensity of youth). School in California in those days was essentially free. Today, a four year experience can easily run into six years and $100,000 of debt.

    For me there is no return on investment, but ROI doesn’t really apply to me.
    Because I do not hope to turn again
    Because I do not hope
    Because I do not hope to turn
    Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
    I no longer strive to strive towards such things
    T.S.Eliot, “The Wasteland”
    I am interested in those things I neglected to study because of misplaced priorities, currently Portuguese, Spanish, and linguistics..

    Fortunately, we appear to be living in a time of democratized education. If you hunger to be a fly on the wall of one of the great universities, if knowledge is your prime mover rather than a prerequisite for advancement, then the following TED presentation by Daphne Koller “(of Coursera) may be for you. http://tinyurl.com/cmwc9m4

    Other institutions (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and some European institutions) are also providing similar material under the category of “distance education” or “open courseware.”

     
    • ritaroberts

      August 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Hi Carlos,glad you liked my post about Pewter Tankards, Pewter is one of my passions so managed to collect a few early tankards myself. By the way I have looked a Coursera and am thinking of one I might go for. Like you I am always searching for knowledge on the things I am already interested in and regret not being able to study more when younger.However I am having fun catching up now. Hope you receive this as I try leaving comments on your site but not sure if you are getting them. Best wishes Rita.

       
  2. Rhys Herbert

    November 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Hello, I’ve got a collection of old pewter, not unlike the images above, we found them in an old welsh abbey ruin ,

     
    • ritaroberts

      November 14, 2012 at 8:40 am

      If you look for some essay marks stamped on your pewter,also the measure and if they weigh quite heavy its likely you have some old tankards. But it would be wise to take them to be valued and to see if they are in fact genuine and not replica’s
      Good Luck.

       
  3. Rhys Herbert

    November 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Hi, and thanks for replying, but can you guide me on the hallmark underneath the Tall stein or tankard, with goblets, Ive searched all websites to compare, but not having any luck, similar to the ones above , but this one as more raised seems from top to bottom, it as Four hallmark Stamps , A B , then flower type petal and then an S , or a Snake with a line or arrow through centre, it may not be pewter . Please send me your thoughts, and where are you based ?
    Nos Da,
    Rhys

     
  4. Daryl Bonnett

    January 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I have a pewter jug I believe it has atkins brothers Sheffield and 2432 and two other marks can you giveme any info on this please

     
    • ritaroberts

      January 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      Hello Daryl. Regarding your enquiry. Just google ” The Pewter Society” and they will help you Identify your tankard
      You will need to give them all details, besides the number. Good luck.

       
  5. Greg Wachter

    October 5, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    I have a flagon found makers mark and it was make around or after 1660. When I was your my brother and used the base to shoot at with a pellet gun…ahhh. It has a very small hole and I would like to repair it properly. I have used wax for now so I can drink my fav beer.

     
    • ritaroberts

      October 6, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      If you contact “The Pewter Society” I am sure they will advise you how to repair your Flagon
      What a shame you and your brother did not treasure this when you were younger. Good Luck.

       
  6. Ken Wiesen

    July 1, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    Hello Rita. I have an old tankard that I have which has a raised pic of King George the 1st on it, a court jester on the top of the lid and three legs which are cherubs. I was told by an appraiser it was a Presentation Tankard. King George 1st. Do you think this has any value? It does have a few small dents in it.

     
    • ritaroberts

      July 2, 2014 at 8:29 am

      Hello Ken, I have many enquiries regarding Pewter Tankards and its so nice to hear that people treasure them. If you contact ” The Pewter Society.”they will have all the information you need. You will need to give them all information on your tankare

       

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