Pewter collecting started in the late 1800s. It became increasingly popular amongst mostly a small number of quite well off British Gentlemen and some wives. It was thought of as a new and eccentric hobby. Real interest with exhibitions and publications did not begin until the early 1900s.
This Society of Pewter Collectors had until the late 1940s a code of conduct where members did not criticise or fault other members’ pieces. Thus they themselves provided fertile ground for forgers and fakers of experience looking for easy profits.
There were a good number of such fakers and fraudsters, The best known of which was a Richard Neate, born 1880 in Camden New Town, dying in London in 1953. He may have served an apprenticeship as a pewterer (he is described as such at death). He was an antique dealer from 1923 to 1944 and was familiar with most of the leading dealers and buyers. He appears to have copied or created over 130 marks to use faking and falsifying ‘antiques’.
A booklet published by The Pewter Society entitled The Richard Neate Touch Plate (and two others of unknown origin) - goes into detail as to the marks he used. Reading the history it might seem that if you were a collector then you could order your missing piece from Neate which he would ‘discover’ not long after. Indeed some of his ‘discoveries’ were works of art in their own right and perhaps some of the leading pieces ever ‘found’.
Richard Neate even had his own hallmarks, a set of three, the second being a good strong lions head facing to the left, and the third the initials N.R (some said Naughty Richard!) His pieces are often difficult to tell from the real thing. He was very good at his chosen work, though seemingly he did not die a wealthy man.
Creation of imaginative splendid pieces, the making of a missing plate for a collector, the copying of someone else’s pieces, the dressing up of unmarked pieces with marks collectors might use to identify the maker and date the ‘piece’ were all tricks of the trade, calculated to deceive and enhance values to the seller. Ageing with acid or chemicals or even dye was not unusual. In Europe one maker was famous for taking an old plate, cutting out the centre with the maker’s mark and fitting it to the base of a new wine measure or lidded tankard; so that the new ‘antique’ had indeed got a genuine makers mark.
As such then it may be sensible for new collector’s to take care – something you like may not be costly but does it feel right? if it looks mass produced it probably was (in the 1920s), if the hall marks all look even and applied by one tool not four then likely it was later made than it might seem. Are there signs of age as might be fitting to the piece? If it is expensive then the Pewter Society may be able to offer some help to members who are undecided, certainly amongst the membership will be someone who has knowledge of the subject as relates to the type of piece in question.
Even knowing this, Pewter can be a joy to collect.
The Pewter Society, and a number of books, will lead you to a better understanding, perhaps. But all I want to do is enthuse you, show you what I enjoy, and lead you to where you might want to find out more for yourself.