PEWTER SHINES AS 'THE POOR MAN'S SILVER'
Pewter items selling from $77.00- $467.50. Photo courtesy of Eldred's
In 1635, Richard Graves opened the first recorded American pewter shop in Salem, Mass. He supplied the homes, taverns, and churches in the colonies with ladles, mugs, plates, and spoons.
Clergymen offered communion from his pewter chalices. Housewives served stew in his containers, and taverns sold beer in his tankards.
Few early-17th century pieces could even be located until excavations in Jamestown, Va., produced a pewter spoon that bore the name Joseph Copeland. Copeland worked in Jamestown and Chuckatuck from 1675-91. His spoon is now in The Jamestown Museum.
Early settlers were mobile and carried few possessions. They only purchased what they could not make themselves, like tools and pewter. Even then, they bought the simplest, most necessary pieces like plates, bowls, spoons and drinking containers.
Traveling, the open hearth, and constant use damaged the pewter, and the need for skilled artisans to produce more became a necessity.
There was one problem. America lacked tin, the most important ore in the pewter trade, and export from the tin mines in England to the colonies was prohibited.
The first American pewtersmiths used worn out pewter objects instead, and melted them down for recasting. That’s how most of the early Colonial pewter disappeared.
Tin ore was easier to obtain after the revolution, but by then people were buying glassware and pottery.
Pewter was called the “the poor man’s silver” prior to the 19th century, but was actually a prestige item among those who could afford it.
With the introduction of electroplating in the 19th century, the demand for silver-plated wares increased, and pewter all but disappeared. Not until the 20th century did the interest revive.
Nowadays people appreciate the primitive look of pewter, and usually have a few pieces to accent their country collection.
What’s available at many flea markets and auctions are the late-19th century pewter examples that were silver-plated over pewter, but subsequently stripped of their plating.
“Pewter is not an active collecting field,” says Bob Eldred, owner of Eldred’s, Auctioneers and Appraisers, East Dennis, Mass.
“The market hasn’t changed much in the last few years. There’s a lot of pewter out there, and it’s the rare pieces like the big Lighthouse teapots, and the signed porringers people want.”
On Aug. 6 and 7, 1998, Eldred’s offered a variety of pewter in their Americana at auction sale. A set of six English pewter tavern measures, some antique, sold for $247.50. A collection of six antique American pewter Lighthouse coffeepots ranged in value from $154-$220.
Two pairs of antique American push-up pewter candlesticks sold for $319 and $308. Four American pewter whale oil chambersticks realized $121.
Some of the most popular pewter items today are the eye-catching pieces that look great on a shelf such as tankards, teapots, and pitchers. Like other antiques, condition is an important part in evaluating pewter. Sometimes you’ll see scratches, a new handle, or a different lid; all of which affect value.
“It’s important to collect the pewter you like, and to enjoy the scholarship behind the field,” says Eldred. “That’s what makes it interesting.”
Q. Please provide information about Rose O’Neill bisque Kewpie dolls? I have three and am very curious. Joseph Lubas, Venetia, Pa.
A. Rose O’Neill was an actress at the turn-of-the-century who turned to magazine illustrating. She drew a pixie-like cupid called Kewpie, and wrote a story to go along with her doll for the December 1909 issue of Ladies Home Journal. The character was a big success, and pulled the heartstrings of children and adults worldwide. She remains a popular collectible today.
German manufacturers were some of the first in this area, and used the character to also decorate plates, containers, spoons, vases, and other objects.
The bisque (unglazed porcelain) Kewpie dolls list in price guides for $100-$4,000. This is based on the particular doll, the manufacturer, condition, and signature.
You can contact the International Rose O’Neill Club at P.O. Box 668, Branson, Mo.
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