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Book Review: Pewter at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Anthony North uses the collection to illustrate the history of pewter design and decoration

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The Victoria and Albert has some 1,200 pewter objects, dating from the 14th to 20th centuries, in its collection. Dr North uses the collection to illustrate the history of pewter design and decoration. In addition, he explains the technical and economic aspects of pewter-making and charts the rise and fall (and recent rise again) of this craft. Pewter has long had a humble, if not downright folksy, reputation, and for the general reader this book goes a long way in dispelling its lowly image—some of the German Renaissance and the Art Nouveau objects in particular are, respectively, very grand and very refined. The book is arranged thematically—medieval pewter, guild pewter, pewter for eating and drinking, domestic pewter, measures, ecclesiastical pewter, Art Nouveau and 20th-century pewter, and, finally, fakes (the manufacture of which arose in 1920s when “folk” art was invented)—and it is interesting to note that so many of the works in the V&A are continental rather than British. Given its monochrome, muted hue and subdued tone, it is paradoxical to note that the objects are far better served in this book by the colour than by the black and white photographs—there is more subtlety to pewter than one might imagine.

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