I’ve been casting with pewter at re-enactment events for 6 seasons now. Pewter is good for demonstrations because it melts over an open fire in a ladle, so you can melt it easily and there are few health risks, especially since I use modern lead free pewter. The moulds though are a little tricky, and this post is about some I have made or are making.
Medieval mould were made from mudstones or fine grained sandstones, maybe limestone, i.e. they are easy to carve and provide a smooth surface when finished.
The most easily sourced modern equivalent is soapstone, and not strictly accurate although a medieval mould from Perth is also made of it, most were not
So, onto the moulds I have made, here’s one for a round buckle, based on a buckle found in London, although it is not as accurate as I would like.
The next mould is my most successful – I’ve used these to make buckles for my shoes. It features a spectacle buckle at top, with a partly done fleur de lis underneath and a belt spangle one beside it. The buckle mould has been used hundreds of times so far, probably over 300, and is starting to get worn but is good for a few hundred more. So you can see that a medieval mould would be well worth the time investment to make one, and should last for several years of use. I doubt that a pewterer would use it every day, rather a batch of a dozen or gross would be made one day, and this repeated several times a year as required.
Unfortunately these buckles aren’t that accurate, it seems more likely that they used two part moulds, made to fit together perfectly so that the bar across the middle of the buckle is rounded, allowing easy rotation of the pin. In my mould the bar across is more rectangular in shape, so the pin doesn’t move so easily.
Therefore I need to make a new mould, but for someone like me who isn’t very good at it, that takes hours.
There is also a specific other thing which I only got right a couple of years ago – the use of lead pins to hold two parts of the mould together. When two halves match perfectly then you can make a circular buckle bar because the two semicircles match up.
Lead pins are essential on three part moulds as well, such as my button mould. The lead is poured into a hole drilled through the mould, and widened at the outside and inside with a neck of stone within ensuring it cannot move.
The first picture shows the base and at the top one half of the upper section, with two lead plugs which fit into the hole in the base.
Then in this one you can see the two top halves and the carving of the button that has started upon them.
The third photo shows the mould half assembled.
So now I just need to get down to work and keep carving, but it is slow, steady work and I am not artistic at all.
To add to the fun, we don’t really know much about who carved the moulds in medieval times. Was it the pewterer himself or a stone mason or what? The answer is probably hiding in some old documents.
Even worse, few moulds have survived. The best assemblage is in Coventry, in the Herbert collection. However it seems that no complete mould has survived, there are halves of 2 part moulds and 1 out of 3 parts of a 3 part mould. I have examined them, and they are very nice, well carved using good stone. Some of the stone has been matched to deposits 20 or 30 miles away, perhaps well know of and deliberately chosen.
But why bury parts of moulds? If the moulds had been broken in use there would be fragments. And many of the bits found are ingates, some have a dozen ingates in a row coming from one large one, but the mould parts they lead into are also missing.
It’s a big mystery. I sometimes think that someone thought they’d annoy a pewter they knew by stealing half his moulds, did so, buried them and never recovered them. Why else can we not find the rest of the parts of moulds?