The Excellence of Foreign Pewter - Regulations Governing its Manufacture - Centres of Production - Decoration of Pewter - Authorities on the Subject of Pewter

Beautiful as are the examples of old English pewter - articles on this subject have been given already (see pages 945 and 1070, Vol. 2) - they are rivalled, and in some cases even excelled, by the foreign ware that has survived destruction. In France the making of pewter was early placed under restrictions as strict as those that prevailed on this side of the Channel; but it was not until 1613 that Royal patronage was extended to French pewterers.

At that date Louis XIII. gave a set of statutes to the so-called "Potiers d'etain and tailleurs d'armures sur etain" of Paris, who were divided into three classes, each with their own guild, known as the Potiers dit de Rond, or makers of rounded ware; the Potiers maitres de forges, or forge hands; and the Potiers menuisiers, or makers of menus ceuvres, that is to say, small articles, such as inkstands, mugs, pilgrims' badges, etc., who may be said to have corresponded roughly with the sad-ware - hollow-ware - men and triflers, whose distinctive functions were described in connection with English pewter. The chief regulations, most of which had, however, long been in force, embodied in the statutes of Louis XIII. were as quoted by Mr. Masse in his "Pewter Plate." No pewterer might use constituents in proportions other than those laid down, which were for what was known as tow commun, tin with fifteen per cent. of lead and six of brass, a toleration of one per cent. of error being allowed. Pewterers might have as many workmen and apprentices as they liked.

No pewterer might work at night or on a festival day; no coppersmith or other person might sell ware belonging to the pewterer's trade, either in the town or outside, unless it was of good and legal alloy; no one might sell old pewter as new. The Provost of Paris was bound to elect experienced masters of the trade, who were made to swear solemnly that the men belonging to it would keep the regulations well and loyally. The pewterers, with the exception of these two officers, were liable to serve on the watch till they attained the age of sixty.*

It was further enacted that any French pewterer who aspired to becoming a master workman must serve an apprenticeship of six years, and after that have worked for three years as a journeyman. This long novitiate over, he had still to prove his competency by the production of a diploma masterpiece, a potter dit de rond, or worker in the round, being expected to make a pot of some kind in one piece; a maitre de forge, or forge hand, to produce a hammered bowl; and a potter menuisier, or joiner, to submit to the judges an inkstand of simple construction.

Special privileges were granted in France to the sons of master pewterers who became employers in their turn after three years' training under their fathers; and widows were allowed to carry on a business left to them by their husbands without being subjected to any test of efficiency. Women pewterers often rivalled their male relations in the beauty of the ware they produced; a certain Isabel de Murcel, for instance, who was working in Paris in 1395, was ranked as one of the best makers of pewter of her time.

French tankard, German water jug, and French flagon in pewter

French tankard, German water-jug, and French flagon in pewter. France was famous for pewter work, and the finest specimens were made in etain blanc, and marked with the word "blanc," or " white," since an undue proportion of lead gave the ware a blue tinge

Photos, H. G. May

* The English books referred to in the article on Old English Pewter that appeared on page 945, Vol. 2, of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia also give many details concerning foreign ware and its makers. J. L. H. Masse's " Pewter Plate" (George Bell & Sons) includes lists of French and German pewterers from 1292 to 1633. Foreign publications containing reliable information on the subject of pewter and its makers are: "Etudes sur l'etain," by Germain Bapst (Masson, Paris, 1884) : " Etudes sur l'histoire de la production et du commerce de l'etain," by Hector Dufrene (Lacroix, Paris, 1881); " Histoire du Mobilier," by Jacquenmart(hachette, Paris, 1877); " Francois Briot, Caspar Enderlein, und das Edelzinn." by Hans Demiani (Leipzig, 1897); and "Della Pirotechnia," by Vannucio Biringuccio (Venice, 1540). The pictures with which this article is illustrated are all reproductions of specimens in the collection of the writer.

The finest French pewter was marked with the word blanc, or white, because an undue proportion of lead gave to the ware a bluish hue, and the name of etain sonnant, or resonant metal, was given to pewter that had been more than once melted down, as it became hardened and sonorous in the process. With the exception of chalices and patens, which had to be made in etain blanc, the latter material was used for every variety of pewter ware so long as it came up to the standard required.

It early became customary for French pewterers to mark their ware, and in 1613 this marking was made compulsory, fines being inflicted for the infringement of the law. Each maker had to have three marks - one large one, including the first letter of his Christian name, and his full surname; a second, considerably smaller, giving his initials only; and a third, consisting of the master's badge or symbol that he himself chose. The best pewter was marked on the under side, whilst that of secondary quality bore the various tokens on the upper side, so that it was easy to distinguish between the two chief varieties of pewter made in Paris. It was compulsory to have all the various marks registered in what were known as the Rouelles d'essai, or test tables, which corresponded with the touch-plates of Pewterers' Hall, and of which duplicates were kept in the office of the