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The Archaeology of Pewter Vessels in England 1200-1700: A Study of Form and Usage

WEINSTEIN, ROSEMARY (2011) The Archaeology of Pewter Vessels in England 1200-1700: A Study of Form and Usage. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The first aim is to study the main types of pewter vessels surviving for the period, and to show how they were suited to their domestic purpose, especially the serving of food, and as eating and drinking implements.

The second aim is to attempt to further investigate the alloy ‘trifle’ by having a sample of typical objects analysed by ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry). This alloy was introduced by the Pewterers’ Company (WCP) by the 16th century for the purpose of providing an extended range of wares in a more durable metal than ‘lay’ metal, but less expensive than ‘fine’ metal, as specified by the Company.

The third aim is to explore the occupations of the differing types of ‘potter’ who worked within the Company during the second half of the 17th century. The growth of this separate capitalist group of middle men ‘potters’ or retailers of ceramics and glassware has not previously been noted. The differing levels of wealth and work of other, mainstream, Pewterers is explored by comparison.

The majority of the finds came from anaerobic marine rather than traditional land sites and consisted chiefly of medieval to 17th century tablewares – dishes, saucers, plates, porringers, salts, beakers and other smaller drinking vessels, together with a few larger flagons. Such smaller drinking vessels were frequently listed as ‘trifles’ from the early 17th century in the Company records.

Individuals described as potters were sometimes identified amongst the Company’s membership. It was decided to try to determine their actual occupations by further examining the Court Minutes and wills and inventories of likely individuals.

It was found that the various dishes, saucers and platters were component parts of the ‘garnish’ the chief serving vessels used between the 14th to 18th century to serve food to the middling sort of people, and that this played a central role not only as utilitarian wares but as objects of decoration and status as well. The Pewterers’ Company members were highly innovative and also produced the country’s first plate (apart from in silver) by the mid-16th century and which remained in use unaltered until the 1670s. Linear dimensions were correlated with the more usual sizes by weight for the first time from the remains of the garnish on the Mary Rose, lost 1545.

Analysis of a sample of the smaller drinking vessels by Sheffield Assay Office detected an alloy of some 4-6% lead and this was likely to qualify as trifle alloy.

While some individuals did indeed make drinking wares, it was discovered that the term potter usually applied to retailers of glassware and ceramics – a new occupational label. A number of such individuals within the Pewterers’ Company played formative roles in setting up a new Glass Sellers Company in 1664. The business activities of this group – typical of individualist ventures during the 17th century – had not previously been noted by historians of the Company and indicated the Pewterers’ heterogeneous and commercial make up from this time.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"Pewter", "Archaeology", "Analysis", "Pewterers' Company", "Usage", "Trifle", "'Lay' Metal", "Fine Metal", "Garnish", "Dish", "Tankard", "Flagon", "Porringer","Anerobic"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2011
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Dec 2011 15:13

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