Inscribed pewter disc.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
A circular object bearing the inscription 'Tum primum cognita praepes subvolat'. Pewter is a soft alloy consisting of 80-90% tin, and 10-20% lead. It is easy to engrave, and unlike silver, is resistant to tarnishing with age. It sometimes includes small quantities of antimony to add hardnes, or copper if a softer alloy is required. During the Middle Ages pewter was used to make practical items such as plates, bowls and drinking vesels, and objects made from it were highly prized. Pewter made by British craftsmen had a particular reputation for quality. In the 18th and 19th centuries alternative materials such as glas and China superseded pewter for making utensils for everyday use, and today it is generally only used for decorative wares.