Debra Lynn Dadd

The Safety of Pewter (Old and New)

QUESTION:

I have an antique pewter salt shaker I bought it at an antiques store in Boston in the 1950s, and gave it to my parents then--it is old, old. I use it at the stove when I add salt rarely to food I'm cooking. Is it safe? It seems to me it has a kind of sharp smell, and I don't know if that is lead, or tin, or the salt. Any ideas?

POSTED BY M. C. :: CALIFORNIA USA :: 03/22/2005


DEBRA'S ANSWER:

Old pewter is made from tin and lead, so I would assume yours contains lead. Since there is no safe level for lead exposure, I wouldn't use it. Even though you use it only occasionally, in a way that is worse, for the salt has contact with the pewter for a longer period, giving it more opportunity to absorb any lead that may be leaching.

Modern pewter is lead-free and safe to use. It is made from 95% tin, plus copper and antimony. According to one manufacturer, "The products are guaranteed lead-free and quite safe to be used for all kinds of food and drink."

I noticed that most pewter websites give no information on the pewter or its contents. Warnings are still given to watch out for pewter items which may contain lead. So if you are considering a purchase of pewter, ask if it contains lead.

There is a way to tell if the pewter in question contains lead. Leaded pewter will get darker with age, and will be difficult to buff to its original shine and color. The more lead the pewter contains, the more it darkens and tarnishes with age. 

Debra :-)


COMMENTS:

Is Pewter Safe to eat and drink from? (Old vs New)...
Do you know about what time (year/date) the transition from leaded pewter to modern safe pewter was made?

for example, if we know a pewter bowl or cup was made a certain year in a certain country, can we make an assumption that it was made with or without lead?

Thank you
Your site is incredibly informative. Thank you for finding all this information and making it more easily accessible.

Erin Bentley

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: I wasn't able to find an exact date. I'm going to be cautious here and say that there probably wasn't an exact point--lead in pewter was probably phased out and still may be made today. It's best to always ask the manufacturer on new items and use the test I mentioned in my earlier answer for old items.

POSTED BY ERIN BENTLEY :: COLORADO USA :: 10/07/2006 3:10 AM


I have 4 pewter mugs with wood bases and I would like to know if they can be put in the freezer to be kept cold for beer drinking. They are about 40 years old.

POSTED BY VITA :: CALIFORNIA USA :: 08/05/2008 9:58 AM


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