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Pewter bowl's hallmarks 'speak' volumes

Dr. Anthony J. Cavo demonstrates the lasting value of evaluations beyond a single item while explaining hallmarks in his latest evaluation for the Ask the Experts.

Q Silver plate, 11 inches wide by 1 1/2 inches high, bottom says “London 7134,” and weighty. It reminds me of offering plates at church.

I would appreciate any information you might have on [this] heirloom that I inherited.
– F.G., via email

Proper Identification of Pewter Bowl

A This beautiful silver plate is known as a wide-rimmed bowl and is pewter rather than silver. Pewter is an alloy principally composed of tin but also containing lead, zinc, bismuth, copper, and antimony. The best quality pewter is that which has a high proportion of tin.

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Pewter was made and used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese.

The “London” stamp in the serrated rectangle is known as a “label”. This mark tells us that this bowl is indeed pewter rather than silver. English silver has a series of at least four hallmarks: the standard mark, town mark, date letter, and maker’s mark. Compared to English pewter which may not be marked or it may have anywhere from two to six touch marks. These may include a pewterers’ mark or an ownership mark. Verification and capacity marks seen on vessels such as ewers and tankards are meant to mimic silver hallmarks. They may also bear a town mark. Many touch marks are often partially or almost totally worn. This is a result of much use and because pewter is a soft metal. It was not uncommon for pewterers to buy completed unmarked wares wholesale. With the pieces in hand they would stamp their own maker’s mark. They might also buy wholesale from pewterers who marked their wares and then add their own maker’s mark. This resulted in a piece of pewter with two maker’s marks. The serrated rectangular cartouche framing the word “LONDON” was used during the eighteenth century.

Hallmarks Hold Significant Details

The “London” mark within the serrated rectangle may indicate the piece was made in London; however, this is no guarantee. London pewter was considered to be superior pewter of very high quality, and so the London mark was commonly pirated by provincial pewterers and even by pewterers throughout Europe and in America. Despite the fact that pewter made after 1891 was marked “England” or “English Pewter” and pewter made after 1909 should bear the words “made in” some pewterers ignored the mandate and continued using this arched “London” label. Nineteenth century “London” marks also bear the same serrated oblong rectangle seen in your mark whereas twentieth century “London” marks do not.

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Highly polished pewter can look like silver, and it wasn’t uncommon for pewterers to use pseudo-hallmarks, not for the purpose of fooling the buyer, but at the buyer’s request. Buyers who could not afford silver were able to fool their guests into thinking they were using silver rather than pewter.

Be Mindful of Numbers In Hallmarks

Your pewter bowl also bears a crown over an X mark, which came into use during the late seventeenth century to indicate the hardness of the alloy. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, this mark was used indiscriminately by many pewterers and no longer signified quality. Another mark on your bowl is a crown over initials and what appear to be two birds. English pewter made after 1877 was often marked with an excise mark consisting of a crown over the initials of the ruling monarch and a code number. Unfortunately, the initials in the crown mark on your pewter are quite worn.

The number “1734” (not 7134) is scratched into your pewter beneath the London label. Numbers that are scratched into the pewter obviously occurred after the pewter was made and may or may not be significant. Numbers placed on pewter during manufacture may be three-four-or-five-digit catalog numbers. In the case of a four-digit number, it is probably a catalog number rather than a date or when date numbers are used the date may not indicate the year the piece was made but rather the year the pewterer began business.

Presence of Marks Helps Determine Age

Based on the characteristics of the touch marks, especially the presence of the excise mark, I would say your large, wide-rimmed pewter bowl is nineteenth century. Without the presence of this excise mark, I would be tempted to suggest a much earlier date. The marks may be easier to discern in person or with crisper photos thus aiding in dating the piece more precisely.

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