Glossary of Pewter Terms
This glossary contains terms that apply to American pewter and to British pewter that was imported into this country from the late 17th century to the first quarter of the 19th century. For terms that apply only to British pewter, refer to the Web Page of The Pewter Society and follow their link for a glossary of British pewter terms.
Acid Treatment. A method of cleaning pewter with acid. Also a process utilizing acid on pewter to give it an aged appearance.
Antimony. One of the metals that may be alloyed with tin to create pewter. First used by French pewterers in the 17th century, by British pewterers in the late 17th century, and by American pewterers in the 19th century.
Anti-Wobble Ring. A raised ring on the bottom of a lid which fits inside the opening of a container in order to keep the lid from moving laterally.
Baluster. An adjective used to describe a hollowware form with a distinctive, slightly bulbous body and usually associated with measures .
Basin. A narrow rim deep bowl, most often used domestically.
Beading. A narrow decorative molding resembling a row of beads 1/16" or smaller in diameter. It is formed by a beading tool, in somewhat the same manner as a pie crimper, applied with pressure against the edge of a rotating piece in a lathe. It is most often found on Philadelphia pieces with neoclassic styling. Also see Gadrooning.
Beaker. The simplest form of drinking vessel, usually a flared cylinder on a molded base and without a handle. Used domestically and often in churches in place of chalices.
Bellied measure. See bulbous measure below.
Bismuth. A metallic element used occasionally in pewter alloys as a hardening agent. Bismuth expands while solidifying which allows more alloy to expand into the mold cavity.
Boardman. Refers to Thomas Danforth Boardman, his brothers Sherman and Timothy, and the various partnerships formed by the Boardmans during the first half of the 19th century. Beginning in 1804 and ending in 1873, this Hartford, Connecticut based family created the largest and longest-running pewter making business in the early history of the United States.
Bobeche. A disk or flange-shaped extension at the top of a candlestick nozzle used to catch and retain the candle wax drippings. Most are cast with the nozzle but some are a separate casting and are removable.
Bouge (or booge). The round wall between the well and rim of a plate, dish, or charger.
Brim. The broad, flattened upper edge or rim of a plate, dish or charger surrounding the deeper body of the flatware.
Britannia Metal. An English trade description for a lead-free pewter alloy containing antimony and copper. This alloy was first introduced into England by a French pewterer, James Taudin, in the mid-17th century, but it was not rolled into sheets and formed by spinning and stamping until the late 18th century by Sheffield manufacturers. The formula was discovered by American pewterers in the early 19th century.
Bud. Term used to describe a particular thumb piece type frequently found on baluster measures . A roughly "T"-shaped thumbpiece with each of the two side projections resembling a leafed bud.
Bulbous. An adjective used to describe a hollow-ware form with a rounded body and usually associated with measures.
Burned On. A metal-to-metal fusing process. See Linen Mark .
Camphene. A volatile, turpentine-derived liquid fuel used for lighting. Camphene lamps are distinguished from whale oil lamps by their longer, tapered burners without air slots. Wick caps are usually provided to prevent fuel evaporation when not in use. See our Design Page for oil lamp burner and lamp font illustrations.
Capstan. A form named after the devise used to tie a boat to a dock. In pewter, a form often found in inkwells and sanders. Common in English pewter; rare in American pewter.
Cartouche. A scroll-like label that may contain the pewterer's name, place or city, Hard Metal, London, or other words. See Pewter Marks .
Casting. Process whereby molten pewter is poured into a mold to form the desired article. This was the main way of forming pewter articles until the introduction of Britannia Metal allowed articles to be cold-formed from sheet metal. However, even then casting continued to be used for certain articles such as measures and it was also used to form the knops, handles, feet etc. of articles whose bodies were made from sheet metal.
Caster. A pierced-top container used to dispense salt, sugar or sand.
Castor Holder or Cruet Stand. A frame mounted on a flat base to hold small shaker-top bottles of salt, pepper, oil, vinegar, etc.
Chairback. Name used to describe a thumb piece of flagons and tankards in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Chalice. A stemmed cup used for ecclesiastical purposes.
Charger. A piece of sadware.
Chatter Marks. Coarse radial lines extending outward from the center on the bottoms of mugs, tankards, plates, etc., and caused by vibration of the skimming tool used in smoothing the pieces on a lathe. Chatter marks are especially pronounced on 17th and 18th century pewter skimmed on lathes with wooden bearings.
Communion token. A piece of pewter, coin like (often round or rectangular), issued to those determined suitable to take communion.
Corrosion. The slow formation of a dark layer on the surface of pewter over time. Depending on the alloy, the corrosion can range from a very thin and hard layer to thick and crusty scale.
Crenate. Characterized by a decorative scalloped edge as, for example, in lids of pewter tankards.
Dam. See Linen Mark .
Dies. Engraved hard metal punches used to impress a mark (or touch) in pewter for the purpose of identifying the maker, the quality, or the owner of a piece. See our separate page devoted to an explanation of Pewter Marks.
Dish. A piece of sadware.
Dome lid. Describes a flagon or tankard lid type.
Double dome lid. Describes another flagon or tankard lid type. A stepped dome that gives the appearance of a smaller dome atop a larger dome.
Double volute. Term used to describe a particular thumb piece type frequently found on baluster measures .
Drum-shape. An adjective used to describe the body form of a piece of hollowware, most often a teapot of neo-classic design. It can be used to describe the body form of a mug, tankard or flagonbut these are often referred to as a tapered cylinder.
English Export Pewter. English pewter exported to America from the late 17th century through the first quarter of the 19th century. Several forms such as pear-shaped teapots and creamers, drum-shaped teapots, and sugar bowls were made specifically for the American market and are rarely found in England. At the time of the American Revolution as well as today, there are more pieces of English Export Pewter to be found in this country than pieces made by American pewterers.
E.P.B.M. Electroplated Britannia Metal . Used to designate a piece of Britannia Metal that has been silver plated.
Eruption. Oxidation (corrosion) which has resulted in surface bubbles.
Fake. A piece made purposefully to deceive prospective buyers. Note: See Collecting Antique Pewter, What to Look for and What to Avoid, by PCCA 2006 for the most indepth coverage of "fakes" in Antique Pewter to date.
Ferrule. Socket on pewter teapots, coffeepots, etc. into which wooden handles are inserted, pinned, and thus attached.
Fillet. A narrow, slightly raised band often used around the body of a tankard, mug, measure or flagon for decoration and to strengthen the cylinder wall.
Finial. Various. The knop of a spoon; the terminal end of a handle on a tankard, mug, etc.; or the knop on the lid of a flagon, teapot or other lidded piece.
Flagon. A lidded container, typically used in a church to carry wine for the sacraments. Used domestically as well.
Flashing. Excess pewter found around the edges of a new casting caused by molten metal flowing out from a seam in the mold. Flashing is cut off and discarded during the finishing process.
Flat lid. As opposed to dome lid . Describes an American tankard lid type made in the 18th century but patterned on the English flat lid tankards (Stuart tankards) of the 17th century.
Flatware. Name given for pewter such as plates and dishes, to distinguish it from Hollow-ware. A more modern term for sadware.
Flux. A substance such as glycerin and acid used to clean two pieces of metal to be joined together with solder. Flux also aids the flow of solder over the joint.
Font. In pewter lamps, the closed reservoir which holds the liquid fuel (whale oil, cammphene, etc.). Also, a bowl-like vessel used in the Sacrament of Baptism.
Gadrooning. A decorative cast molding resembling a row of oval-shapped beads 1/4" or so in size. In American pewter it is most often found on candlesticks made by the Meriden Britannia Manufacturing Co., Flag & Homan, and Homan & Co. A narrow rope-like type of stamped gadrooning is found on some Trask britannia pieces. Also see Beading.
Garnish. A set of sadware for the table, usually a dozen of each size.
Gill. A quarter of a pint.
Gimbal or Ship's Lamp. A lamp attached to its base by a suspension device which allows it to swing freely and remain level when the base is tipped.
Hallmarks. Similar in appearance (but not meaning) to hall marks used by gold and silversmiths. Designed by the maker and presumably used to make pewter appear as much like silver as possible. See Pewter Marks. Hammered booge. The booge of all English sadware was hammered; however American pewterers discontinued this practice, as a means of reducing costs, after the Revolutionary War. Hammering was thought to strengthen the metal, but modern metallurgists know that pewter quickly loses this strengthening effect.
Haystack measure. A 19th century Irish measure with a shape similar to a haystack. Never imported into this country, but many were brought here by Irish immigrants in the 19th century. Many have also been brought into this country in the 20th century by collectors and dealers.
Hollow-ware. Vessels (such as mugs, tankards, and flagons) made to hold liquids, as distinct from sadware.
Imperial Standard. Established throughout Great Britain in the Geo. IV Weights and Measure Act of 1824 with introduction delayed until 1 January 1826. This replaced the Old English Wine Standard (OEWS) and many other regional standards in the UK. The Act, of course, had no effect on America's use of the OEWS which continues in use to the present time. 1 Imperial Standard Gallon = 1.2 OEWS Gallon.
Journeyman. A trained craftsman working for a master pewterer.
Knop. A bulge or knob on the stem of a chalice or candlestick for decoration and convenience in holding.
Lathe. A machine tool by which work is rotated on a horizontal axis and shaped or cut by a fixed tool.
Knurled. A series of small beads pressed or cut into a metal edge. When used in a decorative mode, it consists of lines (straight or curved) in a band - sometimes found around the lid, body or base of hollowware and sometimes found around the edge of flatware.
Lead. One of the metals that may be alloyed with tin to create pewter. Because there were no tin mines in this country, the only source of tin for 18th century American pewterers was scrap English pewter, melted down and adulterated with lead. This is why, generally, most American cast pewter will contain more lead than comparable English pewter. Britannia, English or American, contains no lead and modern pewter, by law, contains no lead.
Linen Mark. The handles of porringers and some other pewter vessels were attached by fusing the metal without solder. A handle mold with openings at points of connection was placed against the finished body of the vessel and then filled with molten pewter, which melted part of the body at the joint, forming a strong bond. A "tinker's dam," a heat-absorbing bag of linen or burlap filled with wet sand, was pushed against the inside of the vessel during this procedure and usually left an imprint of the cloth--a "linen mark"--in the softened metal adjacent to the exterior contact with the handle mold.
Maker's mark . See Pewter Marks .
Mark. See hall mark, maker's mark, secondary mark, touch mark and verification mark. Also see Pewter Marks .
Measure. A container of standard capacity regulated by government inspectors who verified the capacity and placed verification marks on the measures. Lidded baluster measures of the "Bud" and "Double volute" type were exported to this country from England and marked with American verification marks. It is believed that some of these baluster types were made in America but only a couple have been found with American maker's marks. The Boardmans of Connecticut made lidless baluster measures in the 19th century. English bulbous measures were made throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century but were never exported to this country. However thousands have been brought to this country by dealers and collectors since World War II.
Mug. A lidless, handled container of various forms and standard capacities. Frequently used in taverns to serve beer, ale, or spirits. Mugs are usually wider at the bottom than at the top. Silver mugs are often called "Canns".
Multi-reed. A descriptive term for a plate, dish or charger with several decorative reeds or moldings at the edge of the rim, usually cast but occasionally incised. Popular from c 1675 to 1715. Scarce in English pewter; extremely rare in American pewter.
Narrow rim. A plate (or, rarely, other sadware) with an exceptionally narrow rim, less than 10% of the overall diameter. The only American sadware form with a narrow rim is in the basin.
O.E.W.S. Old English Wine Standard, the most commonly used standard for liquid measure in England during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. It was used in the American colonies as well and continues in use in the U.S. to the present time. However, the United Kingdom adopted the Imperial Standard in 1826.
Oxidation. One of the processes which contributes to corrosion.
Patination. The surface appearance of any object caused by age and use; a patina.
PCCA. Pewter Collectors' Club of America.
Pewter. An alloy consisting predominately of tin, but alloyed with some other metal(s) to make it stronger and harder. Metals that have been alloyed with tin include copper, antimony, bismuth and lead.
Pewter Marks. See our separate page devoted to an explanation of Pewter Marks .
Plate. A piece of sadware.
Planish. To give a smooth finish to metal by repeated striking with a smooth faced hammer. A technique used by 17th and 18th century English pewterers and 18th century American pewterers to give a more finished appearance to intricately designed porringer handles. It is especially noticeable on "Crown Handle" designs but was used on other designs as well. The practice was discontinued in the 19th century.
Porringer. A small bowl with usually one flat handle cast onto the side of the bowl although Pennsylvania "tab handle" porringers have a plain handle cast with the bowl. Most porringers have decorative and intricately cast handle designs. The six basic types are: Crown; Old English; Flowered; Hearts & Crescent; and Solid or Tab. See Porringer Handle Designs. Provenance. Attributions of maker, owner, or locality made.
Rattail. A tapering extension or thickening of a spoon handle onto the underside of the bowl.
Reed. The molding, usually cast, around the edge of sadware; multiple or single denoting period made.
Repousse. Relief decoration formed by hammering from the underside.
Reproduction. A piece made to appear as an older form with no intention to deceive the buyer as to age.
Ringed Foot. A metal ring applied to the base of an item (usually hollowware) which elevates the bottom from the flat surface. Rings were applied to objects in order to reduce wear, protect the underlying surface, and as a decorative element.
Sadware. Plates, dishes and chargers. A more common term today is flatware.
American vs. English
5" to 7"
5" to 10"
7 1/2" to 10"
10" to 13"
10" to 18"
18" & larger
Saucers were not made in American pewter and were out of fashion in England by 1700. Small American plates in the 5" to 6" range are called butter plates and marked ones are rare. The largest known American charger is 19"; the largest known English charger is 36". Some early reference books refer to chargers as platters, but today the term platter is usually reserved for oval pieces.
Scale. Hard oxide on pewter. Prone to flaking with rough handling.
Scrape marks. Visible tool marks that remain after manually removing surplus metal and smoothing rough surfaces of cast pewter. Spoons and mug handles often show such marks.
Seaming. A forming technique used in the manufacture of Britannia cylindrical vessels. A sheet of pewter would be bent into the desired shape, the joint where the ends meet bonded with solder, and the resulting seam disguised through polishing and placement under an attached handle. Usually more visible on the inside of a vessel.
Secondary marks. Any mark other than a touch mark which was struck on his/her wares by a pewterer. Common secondary marks include hall marks, a crowned X mark, the pewterer's city, and owners initials. See Pewter Marks.
Single reed. A descriptive term for a plate, dish or charger with a single cast reed or molding at the edge of the rim (on the upper surface). Popular from the 18th century into the 19th century.
Skimming. The process of removing surplus metal and smoothing rough surfaces of cast pewter by scraping with a tool as the piece rotates on a lathe.
Skimming marks. Marks left by skimming tools, usually found on the backs of plates, the outside bottom of porringer bowls, basins, mugs and tankards, areas less frequently seen and therefore not as carefully finished.
Slush Cast. The casting method used in pewter manufacturing to create hollow appendages such as handles and spouts. Hot pewter poured into a cool mold solidifies around the contact with the mold, allowing the still molten core to be poured out.
Solder. An alloy, usually of lead and tin, which melts relatively easily and is used to join pieces of metal such as pewter. As a verb, the process of joining metals with a solder bond.
Spinning. Process of forming an article by mounting a piece of sheet metal on a chuck and forcing it over a form while it is rotating.
Spline. A metal strip of shaft sometimes found on the back of porringer handles to add strength.
Stamping. Process of forming an article by stamping a piece of sheet metal over a form in a press.
Tankard. A cylindrical drinking vessel with a handle, a hinged cover, and a projecting thumbpiece for raising the cover or lid. Tankards are usually wider at the bottom than at the top. (Unlidded drinking vessels are usually called "mugs".)
Tin pest. The disintegration of pure tin into powder at very low temperatures as it loses its crystalline structure. Contrary to the statements in some early books on pewter, tin pest never affects pewter which is usually a tin alloy.
Touch mark. See Pewter Marks .
Triple reed. A multi reed plate, dish or charger with three reeds or moldings on the rim, either cast or incised.
Verification Marks. Government inspector's marks placed on a vessel certifying that the vessel was of proper standard to dispense a particular measure. Pieces may have been initially verified at source of manufacture, but were certainly verified at their place of use as well. American verification marks are usually found only on baluster measures made in American or imported from England. See Pewter marks .
Waisted oval. A term used to describe an oval shaped pewter mark with pinched-in sides whereby the ends are wider than the middle.
Wavy edge. A piece of sadware whose rim is formed of curved segments.
White metal. This mark is found on English sadware including pieces exported to America. Designates lead-free pewter containing antimony, i.e., a high quality alloy.
Wriggling or Wrigglework. Zig-zag "engraving", made by walking a screwdriver-like tool from corner to corner of the blade.