As noted throughout this site, the two primary metal alloys we use to produce our sculpture awards are bronze and pewter. In terms of casting, both of these metals have a rich history that extends back millennia. When purchasing recognition awards crafted from these metals, it is interesting to understand a bit about their background and usage, as it provides additional context for the awards and the processes used to create them.
Pewter is a metal alloy consisting of different types of base metals. Pewter is primarily tin (typically 90-99%) mixed with copper and, perhaps, other metals such as antimony and bismuth. Lead used to be a common metal used in pewter alloys, but health concerns have diminished its use. The alloy composition of pewter is in direct contrast to bronze, which is primarily copper alloyed with a small percentage of tin.
The use of pewter for casting objects began during the bronze age (around the 4th millennium BC), centered in the Near East. The oldest existing pewter artifacts were found in an Egyptian tomb dating back to 1450 BC.
Pewter was widely used by the Egyptians, Romans, and, extending through the Middle Ages, Europeans. It was the primary material used for tableware, including cups, plates, and silverware., until mass production of porcelain, glass and ceramics blossomed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
During the Middle Ages, lead was a common metal alloyed with pewter. Pewter was broken into three different "classes", based on how much lead it contained: "fine metal", which had very little lead and was used for flatware; "trifling metal", which had up to 4% lead and was used for holloware; and "ley metal", which contained up to 15% lead and was used for products that did not contain food or drink.
In the early 19th century, as the use of pewter for flatware declined, pewter castings were primarily associated with non-flatware household items such as whale lamps, candlesticks, tea pots, etc. Pewter was also used as a base metal for decorative items plated in silver.
Today, pewter continues to be used for a variety of items, including jewelry, collectables, figurines, models, and pendants. And, of course, it is a metal commonly used for recognition awards such as those featured on our site!