Salt Cellar, cast pewter, England, about 1320, museum number: 4474–1858
England, about 1320
Inscribed in Latin 'Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee' and with the arms of France and England in use until 1340
This salt dates from about 1320 and is cast in relief with scenes of the Annunciation (the Angel Gabriel announcing to the Mary that she will give birth to Jesus) and the Latin inscription 'Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee'. The salt can be dated on the basis of the two shields of arms which represent the royal arms of France 'ancient' and the arms of England 'ancient' which were in use until 1340 when Edward III claimed the French throne and quartered the arms of France with those of England.
Salt cellars in silver or pewter were important vessels on the medieval dining table. Enough lids from such pieces survive to suggest that by 1400 they were part of the pewterer's stock in trade.
Salt was an expensive preservative and condiment and was used much more than it is today; it was not inappropriate therefore that a vessel containing salt should be elaborately decorated and inscribed. The religious nature of the inscriptions and scenes meant that for many years, the present example was thought to be a pyx (a container for the wafers used in celebrating the Mass). However, two very similar objects, in Paris and Berlin, found with the inscription 'when you are at table think first of the poor', indicate that it originally had a domestic function.
Flagon. cast pewter, England or France, 1350–1400, museum number: M.74–1914
England or France; 1350-1400
Inscribed 'P:FILLE:H:F DE:MAILEI' on handle (owner's name?)
In 1348 the Mayor of London approved regulations to control the rapidly expanding pewter trade. Apprenticeships were formalised and goods had to meet prescribed standards. This faceted wine flagon may be an example of what is referred to in these ordinances as 'square' flagons and later as 'Normandy pottes'. The form, if not the object itself, probably originated in France.
Cruet, cast pewter, England, about 1400, museum number: M.26–1939
England, about 1400
Inscribed 'THOMAS HUNTE: HONORIFICABILIUT' on body (a medieval tongue-twister)
Countess of Loudoun gift
Until about 1400 churches provided the principal market for pewter. Cruets, usually in pairs, held wine and water for use during the Mass. This cruet was found in a well cavity at Ashby de la Zouche Castle in Leicestershire. It must pre-date the filling of the well during the building of the Great Tower in 1476.
The inscriptions on the vessel, are presumably an owner's name together with an abbreviated version of the well-known medieval tongue-twister HONORIFICABILITUDINITATIBUS, the longest word known to medieval Latin scholars from the ninth century onwards. The best-known example of the use of this word is in Love's Labour's Lost, Act V, scene 1, in which Costard the clown exclaims: 'O they have lived long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus; thou art easier swallow'd than a flap-dragon'.
Dish, cast pewter, England, 1490–1500, museum number: M.39–1945
Owner's mark a crowned feather
The plate bears the crown and feather motif of the heir apparent to the English throne. It may have been part of the household pewter of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's older brother who died in 1502. It was one of 20 similar dishes dating from about 1500 found during building work at Guy's Hospital in 1899, near the site of Arthur's palace at Kennington.
Baluster Measure, cast pewter, England, 1550–1600, museum number: M.314–1923
Maker's touch 'F' between two stags (unidentified), house mark of a bishop with mitre and 'NE', verification mark 'HR' below a crown
Measures are among the most commonly surviving pewter vessels. They were used in taverns to carry set quantities of wine and ale from barrels to the table.
This baluster measure was dug up in Parliament Street, Westminster, in 1903. Its ball and wedge thumb-piece and narrow 'waisted' profile suggest a 16th-century date. The 'bishop and mitre' ownership marks struck repeatedly on the lid and body may refer to the name of a tavern such as the Mitre or Bishop's Head.
Baluster measures were usually made from low-quality pewter with a higher lead content.Their distinctive shape probably comes from earlier examples made of pottery and leather. Measures varied in style and capacity according to local regulations. The crowned 'HR' mark shows that this measure passed inspection by a local authority.
Dish, cast pewter, Nuremberg, Germany, 1569, museum number: 1133–1905
Nuremberg, Germany, 1569 engraved in mould
Signed in the mould 'BI' (unidentified); made by Albrecht Preissensin (active 1564-98)
Owner's initials 'FS' on back and arms of Nuremberg
Nuremberg was a great centre of the finest pewter. The master-pewterer Albrecht Preissensin cast this dish in an etched (rather than engraved) mould creating a low-relief woodcut effect. The design depicts the Judgement of Paris after an engraving by Hans Brosamer and the Virtues after engravings by Virgil Solis, both well-known 16th-century printmakers.
Candlestick, cast pewter, Stockholm, Sweden, about 1663–70, museum number: M.133A–1935
Stockholm, Sweden; about 1663-70
Maker's touch of Vieth Fijtsson (active 1637-84)
This distinctive twisted candlestick is made of three sections which were cast in moulds. Inside the stem a vertical seam shows it was cast in two halves and soldered together. Between 1663 and 1670 Vieth Fijtsson, the maker of this piece, produced 24 pairs of candlesticks cast in the same moulds as this for the Swedish court of Queen Hedvig Eleonora.
Beaker, pewter, cast and engraved, Magdeburg, Germany, October 1763, made by Ernst Jakob Kopcke, museum number: M.148–1930
Pewter, cast and engraved
Magdeburg, Germany; dated October 1763
Made by Ernst Jakob Kopcke (master pewterer from 1758)
This beaker cover is one of a small group of vessels which were engraved by Frederick Baron Trenck whilst imprisoned in Fort Etoile, Magdeburg. An account of these beakers was given by Trenck in his autobiography The Life and Surprising Adventures of Frederick Baron Trenck: 'The daylight I enjoyed induced me to amuse myself by engraving satires, and little drawings with the point of my nail, on the tin cup out of which I drank: and I soon brought this art to so much perfection that my first attempt, though imperfect, was carried to the city. The commandant ordered another such cup to be given me; and in this, I succeeded better than the first; in short, the different majors under whose care I was, requested each a sample of my productions.'
One of the scenes on the museum's beaker, showing the baron sitting in a chair chained to the wall with a chain and collar weighing '68 lbs.' (30.84 kg), refers to an incident when Fort Etoile was under the command of General Borch. 'This cruel man came immediately to my prison, but like a hangman about to take charge of his victim. He was accompanied by locksmiths, carrying a weighty collar, which they put round my neck and a strong chain that was joined to that I had already at my feet; and to these were added two additional ones, so that I was really chained like a savage beast'.
The entire surface of the beaker and cover is engraved with scenes and inscriptions principally in German but also in French. The top of the cover is engraved with a series of scenes, some taken from Aesop's fables with captions written in minute script below each scene in German. The central knob is engraved with a hunting dog on a leash. The inside of the cover is engraved in the centre with a circular panel with scrolling foliage containing four coats of arms with a figure of cupid in the centre and the motto amitie nous unis - 'love unites us' at the top.
The beaker can be dated exactly by the engraving 'Friedrich Baron von der Trenck, member of the King's Carabineers, Rittmeister of O'Donells' Regiment and Consul to the Great Porte in Hungary, in the tenth year of his imprisonment he engraved this beaker with a bent nail finished in Magdeburg in October 1763.'
Frederick Baron Trenck was one of the most distinguished soldiers of fortune of the eighteenth century. Born in 1726 at Konigsberg, he had a distinguished academic career at the university and was presented to Frederick of Prussia as one of the university's top scholars. He also established a reputation as a duellist. After university, he joined the life-guards, an elite regiment of the Prussian cavalry. He did not however neglect his intellectual studies and counted Voltaire among his friends. He was appointed an orderly officer on Frederick the Great's own staff.
His downfall followed an ill-advised love affair with the king's sister Princess Amalie. The king had him arrested in 1743 as a spy and confined him in the fortress of Glatz from which he escaped in 1746. After serving in the Russian service, he returned to Prussia in 1754 and was confined in the fortress at Magdeburg for nine years, five months and 'some days'. In his own words, 'when I lay in the Bastille of Magdeburg, the mighty Frederick the Great said: "Whilst my name is Frederick, Trenck shall never see day"'. He made several attempts to escape and was chained to the wall, incidents which are recorded on the museum's beaker.
At the end of the Seven Years War, Maria Theresa secured Trenck's release. In 1780 he bought an estate at Zwerbach there wrote his celebrated autobiography. He travelled extensively in Europe visiting France and England in 1774-7 and in 1788 went to Paris. He had been exhibited as a wax-work complete with chains at the Palais Royal and had two plays written about him. He was lionised by Paris society: 'wherever I dined or supped all the friends and relatives of the family were invited that they might have a sight of me; and after meals the company immediately crowded round me with the same view'. He was also presented at the Court at Versailles. He then retired to his estates to write, returning to Paris in 1791. He lived safely throughout the Terror but was finally denounced as an Austrian spy and was sent to the guillotine on July 25th 1794.
Mug, cast pewter, England, 1703, museum number: M.60–1945
England, dated 1703
Maker's touch '16--' (unidentified)
Inscribed 'John Walltrope Att the Bell Att Turvey 1703'
Mugs were often stolen from taverns, so many innkeepers inscribed ownership marks on them. Some even bore the inscription 'If Sold Stole'! This one is inscribed on behalf of the Bedfordshire innkeeper John Walthorp. Surviving tankards with the fashionable swirling decoration of about 1700 are rare.
Biscuit Box, cast pewter, Birmingham, England, about 1903, designed by Archibald Knox (1864–1933), made by W.H. Haseler, museum number: CIRC.934–1967
Birmingham, England; about 1903
Designed by Archibald Knox (1864-1933); made by W.H. Haseler
Marked 'ENGLISH PEWTER, O194, MADE IN ENGLAND'
Archibald Knox was one of the most important designers working for Liberty & Co. He was born on the Isle of Man and his Celtic background strongly influenced his work. This box is decorated with square stylised leaves and flowers. Liberty's marketed this successful design for over 20 years as part of their 'Tudric' range of pewter.
Candlestick, cast pewter, England, dated 1616, but possibly about 1920, museum number: M.210–1925
England; dated 1616, but possibly about 1920
Cast with the arms of the Worshipful Company of Pewterers 'ANO D 1616' and 'WILLIAM GRANGR'
This candlestick has aroused much debate since it first appeared on the market in 1922. The column of the candlestick is cast in relief with formalised plants and flowers; the base is cast with strapwork rectangles and roundels incorporating flowers, plants, the arms of the Pewterers' Company of London, the date ANO D 1616 and the name WILLIAM GRANGR.
Differences in the cast work on the stem and base suggest it might be two candlesticks put together, if not an outright fake. While the shape has precedents in earlier brass, no similar pewter candlesticks are known.
Who was William Granger? A document from 1639, discovered in 1982, was found to be signed by William 'Granger', using the same spelling as that used on the candlestick - GRANGR - suggesting a connection between the two. William Grainger is recorded as an official in the Worshipful Company of Pewterers by 1610, acting as Steward by 1620. In 1638, he became upper warden of the Company. Is this connection too good to be true?
The significance of the date, 1616, which appears on a series of English pewter wares, has never been satisfactorily explained. Dated English pewter often commemorates an important royal event such as the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and his marriage to Catherine of Braganza in 1662. In 1616 Charles I was created Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales, after the death of his brother Henry. However, such souvenirs usually survive in greater numbers. This candlestick is unique.
Recent examinations of the candlestick take us no closer to verifying its authenticity. X-Ray analysis showed no discrepancy between the alloys used on stem and base but they gave no indication as to age. Some pewter specialists argue that the decoration has the telltale signature of the Arts & Crafts.
Vase, pewter, London, England, 1998, designed and made by Toby Russell, museum number: M.9–1998
London, England, 1998
Designed and made by Toby Russell (b. 1963)
Commissioned by the V&A in 1998
Modern metalworkers produce highly sophisticated designs in pewter. Promoted by the Worshipful Company of Pewterers and leading colleges of art and design, pewter has undergone a revival as both a useful and beautiful modern metal. Annual awards such as 'Pewter Live' nurture the next generation of pewterers and introduce contemporary designs into the industry.
To make this vase, the London silversmith and pewterer Toby Russell scored, folded and soldered a sheet of pewter. He wanted to create a sense of movement on the highly reflective surface. He said that he 'distorted the environment around the piece by means of the form alone without need for superfluous detail or ornamentation'.