Pewter is a metal alloy that combines tin with various amounts of lead, copper, antimony and bismuth. Commonly used throughout the American colonies until the 1860s, any item made out of this material is considered to be an antique or collectible if it dates back to the 19th century or earlier.
What to Use
One of the most important things to remember when cleaning pewter is not to use a silver polish, brass cleaner or hand finisher, but rather an all-purpose metal polish. The former group of products contain a mild abrasive which can strip off the the top coat of pewter plating and leave behind scratches or discolorations. Once this occurs, there is really no remedy to the damaged pewter object.
How Long Between Cleanings?
Another factor that influences the choice of pewter cleaning methods and materials is the length of time between cleanings. If the pewter item in question is a recently purchased dusty old antique or something that has been hauled out of the attic after many years, then an all-purpose metal polish may not be strong enough. In fact, using such a polish can generate black or dark gray oxide marks. Instead, it is recommended in these cases to bring the pewter item to a third party specialist. Think of it as the pewter equivalent to bringing certain clothes to the dry cleaner.
Avoid Cleaning to Sell
Somewhat surprisingly, polishing or cleaning pewter can also have an adverse effect on the item’s value as an antique or collectible. In Europe especially, many appraisers prefer that antique pewter items not be cleaned or polished, and that any oxide stains or smudges already present are a part of their natural, centuries-aged sheen.
The good news is that unlike silver, pewter does not tarnish, so once cleaned it will stay bright for a much longer period of time. For older pewter pieces, an application of neutral wax polish can separately help protect the object from any further oxidization.
“Pewter Collectors Club of America.” Pewter Collectors Club of America. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2010. http://www.pewtercollectorsclub.org/.
“The Pewter Society.” The Pewter Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2010. http://www.pewtersociety.org/faq.html.