Pewter has been produced for thousands of years and, although the metals used in its composition have changed over the years, the alloy is recognized by its distinctive grayish patina. Today's pewter is still used in eating utensils and decorative pieces.
Pewter is a metal alloy consisting of at least 90 percent tin and a mix of other metals like copper, bismuth and antimony as hardeners.
Lead was once a major component of pewter but it has been banned as an ingredient for many years. When lead was used to produce pewter, it may have caused many illnesses as it leached into food.
Pewter is polished to a bright silver luster but it quickly develops its familiar gray patina. Very few pieces survive from the days when lead was used, but those pieces will have a very dark to black appearance.
Modern pewter is considered safe for use in eating utensils like knives, forks, spoons and serving plates.
Pewter is not recommended for use as a food container because even small amounts of the acids found naturally in some foods can cause pewter to pit or discolor.
Since pewter has a relatively low melting point, it is unsuitable for cooking.
About the Author
Robert Korpella has been writing professionally since 2000. He is a certified Master Naturalist, regularly monitors stream water quality and is the editor of freshare.net, a site exploring the Ozarks outdoors. Korpella's work has appeared in a variety of publications. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas.