Gift of Katharine T. and Merrill G. Beede, Class of 1929; M.991.39.5
Pewter was widely used for tableware and other household implements in American homes from the seventeenth century through the first half of the nineteenth century. An alloy that contains varying proportions of lead, copper, antimony, and bismuth, pewter was more fashionable than wood and far less costly than porcelain or silver. It was also sturdier than the pottery with which it competed and, if damaged or outmoded, could be melted down and recast into different forms. Unlike American silver tankards, pewter tankards originated primarily in New York rather than New England. This flat-topped tankard by John Will, with its squat, architectural proportions, robustly curved handle, and lid with an overhanging serrated lip, is a fine example of this classic form. American flat-topped pewter tankards persisted long after their counterparts in silver had evolved into more slender, vertical vessels. Because pewter is not raised and shaped with hand tools but cast in expensive molds, pewterers postponed making new molds as long as possible and thereby responded to stylistic change more slowly. John Will immigrated at the age of fifty-six from Herborn, a town on the Rhine, to New York City. There, in addition to pursuing his craft, he became active first in the Reformed Dutch Church and then in the Reformed German Congregation. His sons, Henry, John, Philip, and William, all pursued the pewterer’s trade, making the Will family an important force in the history of the craft. This tankard is said to have formerly been part of the communion service in the Union Dale (Pennsylvania) Presbyterian Church, along with the beakers by an unknown maker, marked “G.C.”. Pewter communion sets were often assembled through gifts of unmatched pieces formerly used in domestic setting, as had been the case with ecclesiastical silver.
Last Updated: 5/8/09