So, we bought a small pewter flagon for use with my re-enactment group. Second or fourth or tenth hand, it was made in Holland by Daalderop, according to the stamp on the bottom. Apparently a respectable company who had been in business making pewterware since 1880. Nevertheless, I reckoned it was a good idea to test it for lead. The easiest way I could think of to do that was to put some vinegar inside it and see what happened. Just normal kitchen vinegar, nothing special, maybe 2 or 4% acetic acid, at room temperature then a while at 50C in a water bath.

This is the inside before, note some sort of staining corrosion:



And after:

Given the white stains, I have to say this probably does contain some lead, because lead acetate/ carbonate is white, formed by the vinegar reacting with lead and carbon dioxide and suchlike, see page 910 of Partington’s Textbook of Inorganic Chemistry for more information. A lot of countries are less strict about it all than we are here. The company itself has metamorphosed a lot, the 1980’s being lethal to it’s original pewterware business and instead it moved into water heaters! There’s no point therefore in contacting them to check about the metal used.

Identification of a substance by how it looks is of course something done by alchemists, chymists and indeed modern chemists to at least get an idea of what they are dealing with. I remember when I was analysing metals in a laboratory, after a while you could identify the Aluminium alloy by the odd colour highlights it had in it. Mind you that still didn’t stop people sending the wrong bit of alloy to be analysed and us from processing them, thus confusing us when it wouldn’t dissolve in the acids it was supposed to dissolve in. I’d like an analytical instrument or two such as an atomic absorptions spectrometer, but finding 2nd hand ones can be tricky and I don’t have anywhere to put it.

So this flagon will be polished up and set on display, rather than being used, which is a shame.