Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Short History of Pewter Tankards


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.


Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Antiques


A wonderful achievement on this beautiful tapestry

British Museum blog

Maggie Wood, Keeper of Social History,
Warwickshire Museum Service

The Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire was woven in the 1590s, and was one of a set of four tapestry maps made to hang in Ralph Sheldon’s house in south Warwickshire.

It’s a rare and wonderful pictorial representation of Elizabethan Warwickshire – a bird’s eye view of Shakespeare’s landscape.

Before arrival at the British Museum for the exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world, the tapestry has spent over a year undergoing conservation. This work has enabled us to get close to the tapestry, and make exciting discoveries!

Removing the old lining revealed the vibrant original colour – it was very green! Light has faded the yellow colour from the green wool, so that the tapestry front now looks blue instead of green.

The tapestry’s border was replaced in the 17th century. Removing the lining revealed fragments of the original Elizabethan border…

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Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


Of Feasts and Pots (from c l00 BC- AD l00)


The period of (cl00 BC to AD 100) witnessed the arrival of a whole new series of accessories relating to the etiquette  of eating and drinking. These include a range of ceramic and metal vessels, particularly jugs,cups and strainers as well as fine tablewares and of course amphorae,which held (among other things) a new drink- wine.

Food and drink are deeply implicated in the politics and social identity and a feast is one of the many opportunities where food and consumption can be studied. They are occasions where food is consumed of a different quality and quantity to that of everyday meals. This difference in the food offered and shared reflects a common understanding of the closeness of various types of social relationships such as, status,political power,and family bonds.


Iron Age Central cookhouse within the roundhouse.

Iron Age round house Glastonbury


The very foundations of archaeological investigations are the residues of food preparation and the consumption of that food; animal bones,pottery,plant remains(micro and macro),landscape exploitation,settlement patterns and grave goods. Food and drink are forms of material culture and, as with all archaeological remains,they cannot be divorced from the social and cultural context in which they are produced,consumed and discarded(Miracle 2002,65) Food plays an” active” role in the creation of socio-cultural contexts and the negotiations of power enacted within them, and must be viewed as more than just a source of nourishment.


IRON AGE and EARLY ROMAN BRITAIN.                                                  

The period 800 BC to AD too was a time of considerable change in Britain .From 500 BC onwards the archaeology record becomes generally fuller and more visible. More sights are known and all classes of material culture increase in number. Fine metalwork and weaponary are deposited in watery places,on dry land, and in graves in increasing numbers from this period too.

The adoption of wheel turned pottery has been seen as one of the key defining features of the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age in Southern Britain. A distinctive style of wheel turned pottery, known as Belgic Ware appeared in parts of Hertfordshire, Essex,Kent and West Sussex during the first century BC. This innovation is one of the major changes that took place in these areas during this period. This period also witnessed marked changes in settlement,ritual, material culture and political organisation. There was the introduction of a moneyed and urbanised state level of social organisation.

 Settlements with specialist functions emerged too and occupation expanded into previously marginal areas.  There were imports of ceramic,metal and glass vessels associated with eating  and drinking as well as exotic foodstuffs and Mediterranean wine. These demonstrate an increased concern with semiotics of the meal and the use of eating and drinking as an active vehicle for social distinction. The Roman pottery is often seen as integral with the aforementioned changes.


Feasts like other commensality,help to create and reinforce social connections and do so within a context in which distinctions among people can be emphasised and elaborated through the use of particular kinds of foods and beverages,serving equipment and etiquette of seating, serving and eating. Pots are tools and are used for storing ,preparing, cooking and serving food and drink the “foodways” of societies. This term refers not only to food preparation technology and the types of foods consumed,it also encompasses the social aspects of food such as the conventions of the meal,how cooking and eating reflect and reproduce the structure of family life,the use of meals to incorporate or distinquish,express or compete for status.

At formal gatherings or a celebration Iron Age people sat in a circle with the chief or hero in the centre, his attendants and warriors around and behind him,each with a position according to his status. Drink was served from earthenware or bronze jugs and the meat on plates or in baskets. When the joints of meat was served, the chief or hero took the thigh piece. But if someone else claimed it,they joined in single combat to the death.There are further descriptions of great banquets such as one tribal chief of the period. Louernius king of the Averni,in an attempt to win favour,is said to have ridden his chariot over a plain distributing gold and silver to everyone and gave a grand feast to all who followed him. He filled vats with liquor and prepared great quantaties of food

Viewing pottery in this light allows archaeologists to move away from the more technological and functional ceramic analysis,and develop the notion that the need for specific types of ceramic vessels is directly related to how specific cultural foodways require vessels to prepare and serve certain foods and drinks in certain ways.It is important to observe the changes occurring in ceramic assemblages within the context of the socio-political and economic transformations of the later Iron Age- changes which is believed to be related to the activity of feasting. In order to comprehend the use of ceramics in feasting, it is important to understand what the actual ceramic changes were and when they were taking place during this period.

It seems obvious that a wider range of different shaped ceramics were available in the Late Iron Age when compared to the narrow range of simple open containers of the MIA  (Middle Iron Age) which were used in all aspects of food storage,preparation and serving. Some functional differences did exist among these hand-made MIA (Middle Iron Age) pots such as, burnished vessels were used more often for serving than cooking compaired to plain vessels which were used more for cooking than serving. The larger vessels were used primarily for storage/cooking whereas small sized vessels were used for serving and cooking. We see here that the MIA is characterized by essentially multi-purpose pottery vessels.

Below are some examples of Iron Age pottery forms.

 Early Iron Age cup slightly inturned rim.

 Iron Age jar everted rim

 Iron Age jar beaded rim

 Iron Age bowl beaded rim

 Iron Age beaker slight shoulder plain flat rim

BLACK BURNISHED WARE  IN BRITAIN (My favourite Iron Age pots.)

There are two classes of fabric which are easily recognised, BBl  originated among the Durotrigian  peoples of Dorset and was handmade,burnished in facets; BB2 is a more greyer fabric finer and wheelthrown with a silky surface. Its manufacture most likely began after Mid l in South Eastern England (particularly Colchester and north west- Kent.

Black Burnished Ware. Top back. Cooking pots with obtuse angled lattice.

Bottom left and right flanged bowls.Bottom centre..Dog dish.

The range of Black Burnished vessel forms serves as a useful guide for dating purposes.

2nd century vessels are squatt/short necked with upward flaring rims, burnished on exterior and inside the rim.

3rd and 4th century. Vessels are more elongated and longer necked with rim projecting outward well beyond the body of the pot. Obtuse angled lattice confined to a narrower band often terminating by horizontal burnished groove or line.

Below are line drawings of Iron Age decorated pots.

Bowl from Beckford Worcestershire.

Storage pot Beckford.

Cup Beckford.

For anyone interested in following Iron Age pottery the Prehistoric Ceramics Research Group is a good beginning.

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Posted by on July 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

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