Keep it looking beautiful by not polishing it
As durable and utilitarian as pewter was to use, it's just as easy to care for today.
Keeping antique pewter pieces in good shape requires restraint more
than anything else. Over time, pewter develops a gray oxide film. That film is
protective and should not be polished off.
Until the late 18th century, pewter was the material of choice for
common household utensils — everything from plates and saucers to cups
and beer steins. By then, cheaper methods of producing porcelain and
earthenware emerged, and pewter's popularity waned.
A tin-based alloy, ancient pewter — dating from the Roman Empire —
usually contained 70 percent tin and 30 percent lead. Through the
centuries, the amount of lead was continually reduced. Pewter with little
or no lead is of finer quality.
However anything that has even a trace of lead is susceptible to corrosion.
Look for white, powdery spots. Only a professional conservator should attempt to restore a
corroded piece of leaded pewter.
The same goes for repairing a piece of damaged pewter. As
with virtually every other antique, the value of the piece is greatly
affected by the severity of the break and the quality of the restoration.
That's an important note for today's collectors. Pewter's popularity
— and value — is on the rise. In May, Sotheby's sold several 18th- and
19th-century pewter objects for well above their estimated price. A late
18th-century English pewter flagon, for instance, was estimated at $100 to
$150, and it sold for $1,125.
So, next time you feel like polishing your pewter stein, fight the
urge. You could be wiping away real value.