Pewter, essentially an alloy of the same metals as bronze (copper and tin), was probably discovered during the Bronze Age.


Pewter, essentially an alloy of the same metals as bronze (copper and tin), was probably discovered during the Bronze Age. From the early 17th century until the mid-19th century, pewter was a favourite metal for domestic flatware (spoons, forks) and small serving, pouring, eating and drinking vessels. In pure form, pewter is a mixture of about 80% tin and 20% copper. In North America, raw tin was not readily available and pewterers depended on scrap for their metal. Such scrap pewter, melted and recast into new objects, was commonly adulterated or "bulked-up" with lead, by as much as one-third for nonwearing objects (eg, organ pipes, candle molds).

Since pewter is a soft metal, objects in daily use had a short lifespan, estimated at 5 years. Two-piece manufactured bronze molds were commercially available for casting common vessels, and pewterers formed their own molds for others. In Canada a few older religious orders in Québec, notably the Congrégation de Notre Dame, still use pewter and own several spoon and plate molds used for periodic recasting.

Both French and English pewter was in common use during the French regime, and many spoons and segments of porringers, bowls and plates have been excavated at early habitation sites from Louisbourg to Montréal. Although there is no documentary evidence of commercial pewtering during this period, examples of unmarked pewter have been found which were undoubtedly local castings or recastings. Later inhabitants of NEW FRANCE and early British North America appear to have used imported pewter almost exclusively. Marked and identifiably Canadian pewter does not appear until the early 19th century and then was limited to Montréal and Québec. Present evidence indicates that pewtering in Canada never developed as a major craft industry, possibly because, by the 1830s, pewter was being replaced as a tableware by inexpensive imported English ceramics and steelware.

Few Canadian pewterers have been identified from markings on pewterwares. Chief among them was Thomas Menut of Montréal, who produced primarily spoons and forks punched with a large "T.M." and a beaver motif. His working dates appear to have been from 1810 to 1820, extending into the 1850s. He was succeeded by his son Jean-Baptiste Menut, who is listed as a Montréal pewterer in 1857-58, and again in 1868. Jean-Baptiste Menut used the mark of a spread-winged angel, flanked by his initials "I.M." A few Montréal and Québec silversmiths also appear to have been part-time pewterers. Some existing pieces are known with small "Montréal" punchmarks, identical to those used on the silver of the Arnoldis, Robert Cruikshank, Salomon Marion and Paul Morand. None of this "Montréal"-stamped pewter has corresponding marker's stamps. David Smellie of Québec City, operating from 1780 to 1827, is also known to have made a small quantity of pewter. Britannia ware, a hard pewter manufactured by spinning in molds and finishing on lathes, is not known to have been produced in Canada.