A Short History of Pewter Tankards

27 Jul


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


31 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.

    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 ,

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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,


  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


  7. Jennifer

    September 28, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    I have six pewter tankards that graduate in size. Flat lids with acorns. Are they of interest to you or anyone?


    • ritaroberts

      September 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Jennifer, Do you know how old your tankards are ?


  8. Patricia Bromley

    October 28, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I was wondering if you could help me with an unusal tankard that I have. It appears to be made of lead and is glazed


  9. ztevetevans

    June 15, 2015 at 8:40 am

    A fascinating history of pewters, thanks!


  10. Dhi

    September 25, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Hi Rita Roberts –
    I came across this blog post while trying to analyse a poem, actually, which mentions tankards.
    Can you tell me anything about the class-associations of tankards, pubs, etc.? ie. what class of society was most likely to be drinking out of tankards? Any idea?


    • ritaroberts

      September 27, 2015 at 8:04 am

      Hi Dhi. There are several places you can search on Google for this info. Here are a couple, (l) Treasures, Raise your tankard to poor mans silver.(2)
      The Pewter Society. and Poor Mans Silver- Antiques Almanac. Let me know how you get on. Good Luck.


  11. Mike

    June 19, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    I have just acquired a pair of extremely heavily cast (and heavy) bellied victorian pint pots in gunmetal, which have the VR and verification marks for LCC, plus GR66, presumably Gv. I have mislaid my booklet giving details of the verification marks, so don’t know which area 66 refers to. I have come across a few gunmetal pots in the past, but never with verification marks, which presumably means they were meant for use in some pub or other drinking establishment. Can you enlighten me on these please?


    • ritaroberts

      June 22, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Hello Mike, You might like to try Google – The Antique Pewter Tankard Co. They may know about gun-metal as well.


  12. Mike

    June 19, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    I have recently acquired a pair of victorian heavily cast bellied pewter pint pots in gunmetal. I have come across others in gunmetal but none with verification marks (VR and LCC) and also a later GR66. Having mislaid my book on verification marks, I don’t know where 66 refers to, but the marks suggest the pots were intended for use in a pub or other drinking establishment. Perhaps they were sold to a self important publican, or used by a dignitary of the LCC. I would appreciate any information on the subject. Many thanks, Mike.


  13. Mark Lawson

    July 16, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Rita

    I, like many others am collecting unique items to leave for my three children when I “fall off the perch” (many years left I hope).
    I love history and would like to pass on this love to my children. For this reason I have bought three George III 1787 shillings to explain the “kings shilling” story to my children with the added advantage of them having to think that these particular coins just may have been used for this historical purpose.
    Rather than buying a modern tankard engraved with this historical event, I would like to purchase three genuine tankards used around this time. Maybe they were actually used for the same purpose !! Any ideas on where to look to find tankards for this date period. Thank you


    • ritaroberts

      July 17, 2017 at 8:05 am

      Hello Mark, It’s nice to know someone is thinking sensible in this modern day and age, because antiques are an investment and appreciate in value with age.
      First I suggest you buy a book with all information about antique pewter tankards which you can get from W.H. Smith The ” Shire book Collections” are quite cheap. Then when you are satisfied with your research visit a few antique shops and browse. Of course there are going to be fakes so if you have done your research you should be able to know what to look for. You could also contact The Pewter Society but for this you will have to look up the address and other contact details on Google. Please let me know how you get on and if you need further information.
      Good luck Rita.


  14. ritaroberts

    January 17, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Reblogged this on Ritaroberts's Blog and commented:

    For those of you interested in collecting Pewter I decided to re-blog my post I wrote some time ago. Enjoy !!


  15. Merlinslady

    August 10, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Hi Rita, I have an unusual shaped pewter mug which is engraved, It is stamped 94 on the base. The shape doesn’t match any of those in your blog. I wondered if you could help identify it or at least its age.
    Many thanks, Amanda


    • ritaroberts

      August 10, 2019 at 4:26 pm

      Hello Amanda, If you could send a photo of your tankard maybe I can help to identify it’s age. You will have to send a pic of the engraving and a pic of the base. O.K.


  16. Darren

    July 21, 2020 at 5:29 am

    Hi Rita. I have a German tankard I am trying to get authenticated. Can you help?


  17. ritaroberts

    July 23, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    Hello Darren the best place for information about your German Tankard is to Google “The Pewter Society” you will need to give them all the information you have on your tankard. They have all the information you need to date it. Good Luck


  18. washingtonlaffitejones5

    March 7, 2021 at 6:21 am

    I just bought a rare 17th century French Pewter Kelchkanne almost identical to the one above by maker Claude Morant (c.1660-1673) with two hallmarks on lid: Moor’s bust/head of Claude Morant and I.P. in oval cartouche touch mark pre-1674. I see we have the same interests in history and collecting artifacts. You can read my story and discovery of the secret of my ancestors and family heirlooms pas down for 250 years on wordpress – link



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