You may think of Pewter as an old-fashioned thing, however, it remains popular and an alternative to china and earthenware and is said to be the fourth most common jewelry metal after gold, silver and platinum.

Pewter is a metal alloy and its uses have included: plates and tableware, tankards, pitchers, vases, figurines, candlesticks, buttons, buckles, and horse bridles.

Depending on its finish, pewter can look like silver, but it is usually lighter, duller and darker. During the Middle Ages, pewter became popular in Europe as a substitute for silver, which was expensive and rare. Pewter does not tarnish like silver and it cannot hold a sharp edge – so it was not used for sharp weapons or implements. That said, it was formed into musket balls (like lead).

An advantage of pewter over Silver is that it does not require much in the way of polishing. Indeed, the slow Patina (oxidisation) that it develops over time is part of its appeal. Today, Pewter can have a matt oxidised finish, which can be simply a sign of age, or can be the result of a darkening agent. Either way, this should not be polished.

Alternatively, Pewter may have a newer, more modern polished or satin finish. These can be lightly polished, but care must be taken as the soft metal can easily be scratched. In recent years, pewter has been rediscovered as a material for artistic expression, and it continues to be popular for its versatility, durability, and beauty.

Pewter has existed for 3000 to 4000 years, since the Bronze age. It was the Romans who brought it to Britain, where they were able to mine its main constituent, tin, mainly in Cornwall and Devon in the South West of England.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, pewter became even more popular, with many European countries, including England, France, and Germany, establishing guilds to regulate the production of pewter items. These guilds ensured that pewter was made to a high standard and that only qualified craftsmen were allowed to produce it.

From the mid-18th century and the time of the Industrial Revolution, the popularity of pewter declined as materials like iron and steel took over. Pewter retained some usefulness, such as in the production of measuring devices and military decorations.

During the 18th century, the use of lead in pewter became a major public health concern, and several countries, including England and France, began to regulate the use of lead in pewter. In the 19th century, the use of lead in pewter was largely phased out, and other metals, such as tin, copper, and antimony, were used instead.

Several items of pewter can be found, both on the Outlander production set and in the historic locations used for Outlander filming. These include: goblets, tankards and inkwells. Claire may well have had pewter in her apothecary such as in syringes or lancets for making incisions.

We have amassed our own small collection of mainly 18th-century pewter which has connections to Outlander:

Captain’s Inkwell (pewter)

Firstly, our captain’s inkwell, which you see featured in Outlander, for example when Black Jack Randall is signing documents at Fort William, but refuses to bond the release of Jamie without written clearance from the Duke of Argyll. An identical inkwell was used when Claire signed Jamie’s petition to Sandringham to have the charges against him dropped.

A captain’s inkwell & quill from Outlander
Our Inkwell
Our pewter inkwell

As you can see, these inkwells were used with a quill. In the days of ships under sail, a captain’s inkwell was an essential tool for recording information about the voyage and for making charts and maps. The use of inkwells by ship’s captains became more widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries, as navigation technology improved and the need for accurate charts and maps became more pressing. During this time, many captains commissioned their own custom-made inkwells, often with elaborate designs and decorations. Today, these pieces are sought-after and considered to be valuable aspects of nautical history.

Tappit Hen / Pewter Pitcher

Pewter pitchers (and the larger flagons) have been used for centuries as a vessel for serving drinks, particularly ale and beer. The history of pewter pitchers dates back to the Middle Ages, when pewter was a popular material for tableware due to its durability and relative affordability.

The term ‘Tappit Hen‘ is most commonly associated with a traditional Scottish drinking vessel. The Tappit Hen was a large, flat-bottomed jug or cup, often with two handles, used for serving and drinking beer, whisky, or other alcoholic beverages.

The origin of the Tappit Hen is not clear, but it is thought to date back to the 17th or 18th century. The term ‘Tappit Hen’ is thought to come from the Scottish word ‘tappit’, which means ‘to tap’, and refers to the fact that the vessel was used to tap or serve drinks. These vessels typically have a lid with a thumbpiece used to lever the lid open. The more thumb price modern thumb prices are typically taller with three bars. Older ones with French or Swiss styling or origin may have acorns as the thumb price.

We have two such pitchers. The first seems to be 17th/18th century and of French or Swiss origin as far as we can tell. There is a very similar one on display in the ‘High Hall’ at Culross Palace – where Outlander filming took place.

tappit hen pitcher
Our Tappit Hen pewter pitcher
antler pitcher
Our more modern (couldn’t resist it) antler handle pewter pitcher

Whale Oil Lamp

Next, we have our 18th century pewter whale oil lamp.

Whale Oil Lamp

Container / Candle holder

A versatile container with lid, possibly a candle holder, bought together with the whale oil lamp, also 18th century.

Candle holder

Glass bottomed tankard & Gill measure

Pewter glass-bottomed tankards were especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and were often given as gifts or awarded as prizes. They have a more sinister history though…

Press gangs were groups of armed men who were ordered to seize able-bodied men from the streets, pubs, or other public places, and force them into naval service. Press gangs were particularly active in Britain during the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the country was engaged in a series of wars and naval conflicts.

Though illegal in theory, these gangs operated to recruit or ‘impress’ unsuspecting people into the army or navy. One technique was to slip a sixpence or shilling into the target’s drink. When he coughed up said coin, it was taken as an acceptance of ‘the King’s shilling’ and joining the army or navy. Hence, the glass-bottomed tankard became popular to avoid such a contract.

Glass-bottomed pewter tankard and pewter gill measure

In Scotland, a “gill” was a unit of measurement for liquids, equivalent to a quarter of a pint or 142 milliliters. The term was commonly used for measuring alcoholic beverages, such as whisky. In some contexts, such as the sale of spirits, the gill was defined as being 1/6 of a gillie, which was equivalent to 1/4 of a Scottish pint or approximately 118 milliliters. The exact definition of the gill varied depending on the time period and location.

Pewter Closh / meat dome

Finally, pride of place goes to the most long-standing piece in our pewter collection – our meat domes.

These were purchased from a specialist pewter antique dealer. They come from none other than 18th-century Culloden House. They were owned by Duncan Forbes, the 5th Forbes laird of Culloden – a very important man.

In 1714, Forbes was appointed Sheriff-depute for Edinburghshire and Deputy lieutenant for Inverness-shire. He was appointed Lord Advocate (Chief legal officer in Scotland) in 1725. Then in 1737, he took up the position of Lord President of the Court of Session (the most senior legal officer in Scotland). Forbes was a supporter of the Hanoverian monarchy and opposed the Jacobite movement, which sought to restore the Stuart dynasty to the throne.

It is entirely possible that these pewter meat domes were used by Bonnie Prince Charlie while he stayed at Culloden House prior to the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

Our pewter meat domes from 18th century Culloden House

You can read much more about our meat domes, their history, the man who made them, together with Bonnie Prince Charlie’s famous meal at Culloden House here:

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s last meal at Culloden House and the life of Thomas the Pewterer…



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