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Last Updated 29-05-2017

BUYING PEWTER

BUYING – an opinion

There are any number of reasons for buying antique pewter and I list a few below. Let me state clearly that I am not an expert, that my experience began in October of 2004, that I have made very many mistakes, and that the advice I offer is of simple personal experience on a short time scale. Let me remind you that this a web site whose sole purpose is to help you to find and enjoy early pewter as I have. In doing so I hope to lead you to those sources that might give you better advice than I am capable of.

So then - after my excuses - let us move forward. You might buy antique or early pewter because –

You appreciate the DECORATIVE EFFECT

PLATES – called ‘sadware’ by collectors - produce a desirable decorative effect. I show elsewhere that when combined with old oak furniture the result can be delightful. By themselves around a room, or in volume on a wall, or placed discreetly they might make a statement you find pleasing.

Firstly decide how you like them. You can find them very clean, or pock marked and dark with oxidation, covered with knife marks through use, darker or lighter, as you might want them if you will but look out for them. In decorative terms the odd crack and slight warping can add to character. Varying patches of grey patina can be effective.

If however you have an eye to value - then the less faults, with a convincing pewter patina and carrying the makers touch marks, and cleaner rather than pitted and dirty, and without cracks, splits, or small holes, any warping, and without obvious repairs, and with signs of use like a multitude of early users knife marks to the centre, will always carry more value to collectors. Read the section on plate rims – as the earlier the better for value, and if attributable to a maker and owner – better still. Armorials and high quality early decoration can increase interest.

MUGS AND MEASURES AND SMALLWARES called ‘holloware’ by collectors.

Comments - read the above and -

Plus - if collecting for value then do look out for – new lids, new handles, new thumbpieces, reattached handles, any small holes and splits. A slight difference in metal colour around the handle attachments to the body, footrims, or thumbpieces or anywhere else, might indicate work that has been done some time after making – and all such can detract from value. The earlier and more pristine; the more is their value. These METAL colour differences can be very subtle, like the differences seen in a crowned tooth against the natural one, however good the match it will seldom ever be exact. Makers marks are all important for value.

SPOONS and CANDLESTICKS are subjects on their own requiring good expertise and I hope I have led you to books that will help. It is one thing liking them – it is a totally difficult and different subject when it comes to value – and values can be remarkable – but only if the collectors want them. So enjoy them and risk it – or study the subject - that is what it comes down to.

CURIOUSITIES – these can be really interesting. I find syringes, egg boilers, card trays, sustenteurs (Dutch worker’s lunchtime soup containers/pressure cookers), milk jugs, mustards, funnels, Britannia Metal Coffee Pots and Tea sets, European Wine Measures, - great fun. And that is what they are - unless you know what others collect. Only if others collect it - is there any market for it at all. So a resale value can be negligible, whilst the piece might be a pleasure to live with.

WHERE TO FIND PEWTER FOR SALE

Dealers advertise, Google offers a good number of WEB pages - and might include this site on about page 8, the Antiques Trades Gazette has occasional articles and a good e-mail alert facility for pewter at auction throughout the UK, but year in and year out, for a number of years, Bonhams at Chester in the UK have had three or four sales a year including oak furniture and antique pewter and other antique metal wear.

Bonhams, New House, 150 Christleton Road, Chester CH3 5TD www.bonhams.com

Works of Art – Mark Huddleston – 01244 313 936 and fax 01244 340 028

Buyers there should usually add 23.5% (simply nearly a quarter) to whatever they bid to cover Bonhams commission payable by buyers plus VAT – (bid 100 you pay 123.50 ..near enough to 125 for easy reckoning).

In any 12 months you have the best possible opportunity at Bonhams to see and examine (arrive early) – good pewter……. (as well as some of the not nearly as good!)

I have found great sadness at the very few antique fairs I have attended, at the junk and scrap that is frequently offered as early pewter – I hope you do better.

……………………………………………Ebay ………………………

Yes, I do buy off Ebay. And yes I do sometimes sell on Ebay.

Ebay offers a terrific variety. It has an easy search facility for members, where you can search amongst regular sellers or for the type of pewter you are interested in - if you can easily specify it. Ebay for me has been a source of considerable pleasure and of deep disappointment.

MYSTERY OF THE BID IN THE LAST FEW  SECONDS

Common knowledge to many eBayers (but not to  all) is how it can happen that there is a bid in the last few seconds when you  as a bidder glued to your screen and keyboard simply cannot make a bid in time  and so see something else slip away.

The answer for me is to use a bidding  service. These simply make a bid for you in the last  few seconds of the auction. You can leave your maximum figure with them and if  your bid is one step higher than any other bid you buy it at that figure which  might well be lower than the figure you had decided as your  maximum. I only have experience of one such bidding service  and this can be found at www.bidnapper.com - there are others. Their site explains how  it works and gives a free opportunity to try it out. For me I can leave a bid  (or two) and go to bed and find out in the morning if I have bought anything or  nothing. The only small irritation for me is that if  my bid was not in the running then I am not notified but have to find out for  myself.

Recently (March/April 08) –

A Pint Mug by Moyes of Edinburgh was photographed and a really good eye might have seen the dints and scratches - but mine missed them – and despite assurances in the details like –

“Buy with Confidence: I have sold over 700 Whitefriars pieces on ebay and have been given positive feedback for every single one. I always list any flaws or scratches accurately, and take large pictures for enhanced detail.”

Whitefriars turns out to be glass (not the sellers trading style as I thought) and glass that I have never heard of (my education seemingly lacking). And the flaws and scratches on this mug were not listed. An exchange of emails followed my clear disappointment –

Me;- Skillful to photograph it without at least showing the base dent and scratches never mind the one half way up and scratches - reading your ebay self advertisement you say you show all these. Well you didn't - why not?

The Seller on Ebay emailed back (in two replies) - HI IF YOU READ THE BUY WITH CONFIDENCE STATEMENT this actually refers to whitefriars glass items thats where the scratches and flaws comes into dont all tankards have some kinds of flaws dints scratches out of shape rims etc mine certainly do i have 4 in front of me know none of which you could ever describe has perfect. No skill involved just took pictures of 140 year old used tankard

My reply - “Yes, I was probably wrong to trust that the mug would actually look as well as it did in the photos. No, all mugs are not damaged.”

Now I had the option to try to return the piece and I also had the option to leave a complaining feedback which tells others of my experience - and anyone can check up on feedback to see just how you felt about it.

I wasn’t offered (nor did I ask for) the opportunity of a return.

Feedback which is negative - often ends up as a desultory squabble, useless for all.

Clearly this seller feels that all pewter is bent and this was no more bent than the rest he has had.

Recently (April 08)–

I have received an EPBM (electro plated Britannia Metal) milk jug in delightful condition for only 4.40 including postage ( it has no real value at all but it is a very nice piece of its sort)

A BM water jug and a BM Egg cooker (yes, why do I bother? – answer .. I like them,) for very little money and exactly as the sellers described them.

A glass bottomed pint pewter mug was well and truly wrapped when I went quickly to collect it from not far away -(well yes that did ring alarm bells but I gave the seller the benefit of doubt as it was very cheap - 6). Unwrapping it I find someone has replaced the glass bottom, cheaply and quickly, not too long ago and very crudely, rendering it worthless – not a complaint, as I know that I should have taken more care.

So yes there are very good pieces on Ebay - and a lot of useless ones, with sellers you would not want to be on a boat with, in difficult seas – to use an analogy.

‘’Good luck’’ …as they say…always a strange expression …it means - it’s yours if you will pay more than anyone else – and that apparently is luck!

The luck actually comes in if no-one else on the night wants what you want.

On April 3rd 2008 a flat lidded early tankard was ending its sale period on Ebay. This had a plain undecorated body it stood over 7" tall, there were denticulations to the front of the lid (the front denticulation was slightly cracked underneath). A mark of S.(?) as a makers mark to the centre of the inside base, and simple ownership marks to the lid. It had a traditional rams horn style of thumb piece. To the left of the lid hinge and to the top rim were two cracks, one had previously had an old attempt at a simple repair. All in all it looked like a rare survivor of a flat lidded tankard from about say 1680 (?). From the dull looking overall patina you might wonder if it had been kept in a cupboard for a very long time. The owner described it fairly enough as –

A nice early Pewter Tankard. In excellent condition. No repairs. With S.# initials stamped on the inside base.19cm tall. 

The condition was good for something of this age; and so it was scarce if it was right. Buyers had to decide that from the fairly good photos for themselves.

This started on offer at 99p and during the seven days moved in jumps up to 775. Then within the final thirty seconds much higher bids came in (probably by bidders using bidding services – as you rarely are able to do it yourself in the last few seconds.) The bidding ended at 2310.00

One not dissimilar to this (but with a stepped lid, nicely presented, no cracks) in May 2007 at Christies cost the buyer well over 10,000. This one cleaned up a little on a fair day at auction might sell for anything over 4000, (opinions here vary but certainly no-one has suggested less than 3000) and it could go for a lot more – it is probably a very scarce piece.

PEWTER SOLD - AUCTION RESULTS IN 2007 – 2008

JUST A FEW FOR YOU TO CONSIDER – THESE PRICES ARE NOT THE HAMMER PRICE BUT THE PRICE TO ACTUALLY PAY INCLUDING TODAYS (Bonhams) AUCTION COMMISSION AND VAT. GENERALLY MANY OF THESE ARE THOUGHT OF AS LIKELY TO BE - BETTER PIECES FOR COLLECTORS.

Sale date

At

Item

price

comment

26 Oct 2006

Stanley Shemmell Auction Sale at Bonhams Chester

A 5" Romano British Pewter Bowl

518

unmarked

Born in the early 1900s – long time collector and an authority on pewter

A lidless handleless Irish gill Measure

12

Charles 1st lidded Flagon 10" tall

8645

Makers mark, good condition

A triple reed dish by Thomas King c1690 13 "

370

A ball knopped 5 " candlestick c1690

6669

Very fine condition

A rare half gallon lidded measure c1600 (hammerhead baluster)

19760

January 2007

Furniture Pewter at Bonhams Chester

A group of 18 pieces including a liddedNormandy Flagon

135

About 7.50 average each piece

An 18th C spouted spire flagon

2346

A pair of late 1700s plain rim plates Irish known maker and two other plates

185

(4 plates)

A pair of 8 lobed wavy edged 13" plates marked with makers name and owners armorial

592

May 2007

The Little Collection at Christie’s London

Spoons individually sold at prices in the range of

281 to 1778

Each spoon

One of the best collections ever assembled privately

7 " fine octagonal base pewter single Candlestick c 1680

19266

Wrigglework Pewter plate 8 " and c1720

3260

A hooped quart ‘Thurdendale’ 1600-1620

32604

January 2008

Furniture Ceramics and Pewter at Bonhams Chester

19 c Jersey Pint Measure unlidded GR verification to the rim

247

Narrow rim Wigan 9.5" plate c1680

247

A pair of cut corner candlesticks c1725 6 "

370

A Stuart Flagon c1700 about 11 1/2" tall

988

A half pint double volute lidded measure

444

What does the above tell us? Perhaps that like all else in life it pays to know what you are doing. Also that the opportunity is perhaps there to own very desirable and scarce pieces. It also tells us the obvious that there is considerable value for what the market wants and little or no value for what it doesn’t. I still find considerable enjoyment and admire well made and well designed pieces that I know have no real market value at all.

AN OPINION AS TO THE FUTURE OF ANTIQUE PEWTER VALUES

If you attend an auction you will see that the average age of pewter buyers is …old. Yes there are a very few younger collectors (let us say under 50) but most are old (let us say at least over 60). So the better collections are often in the hands of far older collectors. If younger people who inherit do not want it (and most do not) then it will be sold off.

So in the short term good collections are likely to come to market and those collectors in their 60s will support the prices until the volume for sale overcomes the market.

In Australia and New Zealand pewter collecting is unusual – indeed some dealers view pewter as they would the ‘black death’ to the antiques trade - and there I quote a significant dealer of quality (but more politely than his actual words).

Contrary wise then this could be a good time for younger people to take an interest and to buy. As firstly good antique pewter, will be coming on to the market as the ‘oldies’ die off. Secondly the prices are and will continue for some time to be depressed. Although it is clear that the market is still now supported by those in their 60s (usually late 60s) improving their collections, by buying the very best.

There is a real delight to be had in good antique pewter and as a collector I do believe that this pleasure in our ancestors every day use of the real ‘Applied Arts’ will be rediscovered by generations yet to start collecting.

But then that is simply my opinion.

THE PATINA QUESTION AND VALUE – a frequently asked question

The Patina question has different answers depending on where you are. A leading expert in the UK only keeps for himself those very good pieces with a naturally very darkened patina (but not pitted or damaged). Others in the UK and AUS prefer them slightly (but only a little) polished - ie the grey/dark grey - glows.

In the USA many seem to like them absolutely clean to an almost burnished aluminum or a silvery look.

To see what I mean first find www.hiltpewter.com and enjoy their USA pewter web site.

Then compare that with a UK based site www.pewtersellers.com  Even in the UK I have one contact who likes his pewter to resemble silver and goes to extreme lengths to clean it like that both inside and out! He says that is what it was originally made to look like.

So I can give no definitive answer on taste or value. If you are thinking of selling; then to see what the market you might sell in pays better for, is always a somewhat simple answer – otherwise just please yourself, and enjoy your pewter the way you prefer it!


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