All you want to know about Pewter and Pewter Tankards
What is Pewter?
Many of the cups in our collection are made from pewter. Pewter is a metal alloy mostly made from tin, with the remainder usually a mixture of copper, antimony, bismuth, and (sometimes) silver. Historically lead was used but nowadays that’s not considered a good idea (actually lead is illegal in drinkware sold in the USA).
Tin is an amazing metal in lots of ways, and is the fourth most expensive precious metal in common use after platinum, gold, and silver. It can be worked in a lot of ways and you can get a variety of really attractive finishes, so it’s no surprise that it’s often used for jewelry. But the trouble is that it’s quite soft in its pure form and wouldn’t make a great cup. That’s where pewter comes in. Mix small amounts of copper and antimony into the tin and it gets much stronger and more durable, and becomes a very practical material for drinkware and all manner of pewter gifts.
All of our pewter is completely lead-free, and sourced from highly reputable suppliers in western countries. All of our pewter is at least 92% tin, with the remainder being about 0.5% copper and about 7.5% antimony.
Is pewter safe?
Modern pewter from a western country is safe. Don’t just take our word for it. The FDA has regulations for ‘food contact surfaces’ (and seemingly everything else) and has no health concerns relating to modern pewter. The FDA is ok with pewter containing less than 0.05% lead (our pewter is lead-free), see FDA regulation 4-101.13(B).
Let’s look at the three metals that go into pewter individually. After all, treat your pewter tankard properly and it will last for many many years, but in the unlikely event that it did dissolve into your beer in large enough quantities (it won’t), it’s the tin, copper, and antimony that you would swallow with your beer.
Tin. Tin has been used for food and drink containers for centuries. Since 1812 it has been used to coat the inside of steel cans for food storage (there are often other coatings used nowadays), and that’s because tin has to be in contact with food for a LONG time before the food becomes dangerous. Unless you leave your beer in your tankard for a few weeks before drinking it you shouldn’t have any trouble (and the beer will taste bad by then anyway whatever cup it’s in). In addition, tin has no known role in the bodies of humans or animals, and isn’t easily absorbed.
Copper. Your body needs copper – it’s one of over 20 dietary minerals necessary to human life. The human body is also capable of getting rid of moderate excess copper, when necessary.
However, the main point to make about copper is that your beer (almost certainly) came into contact with a lot more copper during the brewing process than it will in your tankard.
Antimony. Antimony is not harmful as a metal, and is resistant to attack by acids. It’s not great to inhale (few metals are), but we don’t recommend you do that anyway.
Note that antique pewter or, occasionally cheaper eastern pewter, may contain lead. This tends to discolor over time to a grey-blue color. Over time drinking a beverage from a tankard made of leaded pewter or lower grades of pewter can be very bad for your health, and we agree with the FDA that this is a bad idea. All of our pewter is completely lead-free.
Also, for the avoidance of doubt, like most metals pewter is NOT safe in microwave ovens (there is a risk of fire). We recommend drinking cold drinks only from our cups, because pewter conducts heat and burnt lips hurt.
Is pewter durable?
It depends what you mean.
Pewter corrodes VERY slowly, and Roman pewter in pretty good condition regularly gets discovered in rivers around Europe. Modern lead-free pewter like ours should corrode even more slowly. If you look after your tankard then it will outlive you and a lot of your descendents.
On the other hand, pewter is a relatively soft metal, certainly compared to stainless steel (more on this below). If your tankard is mistreated then it will dent fairly easily (e.g. if dropped from height onto a hard surface whilst full). This is rarely fatal for the cup, and many of us believe that a few dents add to the cup’s character, but it shouldn’t be ignored.
Of course, a glass or ceramic cup is likely to break if you drop it too, and that can be far more catastrophic.
So why is pewter so great for tankards?
- Pewter is the traditional choice. It’s been used by discerning drinkers since the middle ages. Even when pewter was replaced by porcelain for plates and most cups in the 18th century, people kept their tankards and there are many pubs in Europe where ‘regulars’ will have their own pewter tankard kept behind the bar.
- Pewter makes beautiful cups. Traditionally known as ‘poor man’s silver’, or ‘the white metal’, it can be finished in a variety of different ways and catches the light in a way that is matched only by real silver. And pewter doesn’t tarnish like silver does.
- Pewter is practical. Pewter is durable, safe with beer (see above), easy to clean, and (so long as you get modern lead-free pewter like ours) won’t tarnish over time.
Why is pewter better than stainless steel?
Yes, we know. You can find any number of stainless steel tankards online, and they cost is a lot less than a new pewter mug. So why use pewter?
Well, you could use stainless steel. It’s tougher than pewter and, so long as the surface isn’t scratched, won’t corrode in beer. We don’t think it looks as good but that’s subjective.
However, the performance of a stainless steel tankard depends on what’s known as the ‘passive surface’ remaining intact, and having access to oxygen (in the air).
- If stainless steel is scratched, perhaps during cleaning, then it will rust.
- If any residue remains stuck to a stainless steel tankard this will prevent oxygen getting to the passive layer and will cause pitting underneath.
- Crevices in the stainless steel, such as at a join, may corrode due to lack of oxygen.
Pewter is different. Your pewter’s resistance to corrosion is not dependent on a thin surface layer in the same way as stainless steel, and scratches and dents accrued over years of enjoyment won’t cause your pewter to rust.
Plus, as stated above pewter is safe, practical, attractive, and it’s the traditional choice. Why not find out how much fun your own pewter tankard can be?
So will drinking from a pewter tankard get me more dates?
Surprisingly, probably not. But any date that involves tankards is likely to be more interesting than one without, in our humble opinion.
Where can I buy a modern pewter tankard?
Right here in our store of course! We stock a small but growing range of pewter tankards and beer mugs, all of which are made using modern lead-free pewter, and all of which are handmade by very highly skilled craftsmen (and women). If you’re not convinced, why not take a look at our gallery, or add your initials to a cup using our unique Virtual Reality customization tool to preview your own engraved pewter tankard in 3d?
Our company is focused on bringing you the best at a great price, so why not check us out and see what we have?
What about caring for a pewter tankard? Is it hard to keep clean?
No, it’s not difficult at all! Take a look at our article, here.