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Pewter.  A high tin content white metal alloy, usually very soft and infrequently used for striking medallic items. The finest pewter is alloyed with antimony or copper (sometimes alone, sometimes in combination), most pewter, however, is alloyed with lead. In numismatic literature any item described as pewter is suspect, its true composition may be any of several white metal alloys or pure tin! Thus items described as pewter may be tin, or tin items may be called pewter, it is difficult to ascertain any white metal alloy by inspection alone.

Pewter darkens in time. It is bright gray when first struck but tones depending upon the lead content – the more lead the darker gray the alloy tones.

Fine pewter is 80 tin, 20 copper which produces an attractive color with good strength; eating utensils have been made of this alloy. Trifle pewter or black pewter is

60 tin, 40 lead, it is dark in color, easy to work with but cannot be used for eating utensils because of the lead content. The best tin-antimony alloy is 83 tin, 17 antimony, but this is difficult to work with (cannot be turned on a lathe, for example). For medallic items any pewter formula is satisfactory to strike (unless the lead content is too great, as it becomes too soft).

Because it is so soft, any pewter is easy to strike in a medal press; however, it

cannot be given a patina finish. Like all white metal alloys (and unlike most medal compositions) it does not work harden. Because of the tin content it does exhibit reverse shadows (from surface displacement during striking where such area remains bright while all the rest of the piece will darken.

Pewter cups were once awarded as prizes. Today, however, pewter is not included in medal rank and is not used for prize medals. Workers in pewter are called triflers.

See composition (2), white metal.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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