Discovering 18th & 19th-Century Pewter With Bette and Mel Wolf
Pewter is a metal alloy made from tin, antimony, copper, bismuth, and sometimes silver. It has been used to make decorative and service items since the Bronze Age, approximately 3300 BC to 1200 BC! In fact, pewter was the primary material used for the production of table items like plates, cups, and bowls through the 18th century before it was replaced by glass, porcelain, and pottery. Wolf Pewter of Flint, Michigan, is holding its 18th & 19th-century pewter buy-now event on Bidsquare through August 22nd, 2021. We spoke with owners Bette and Mel Wolf to learn more about pewter and this sale.
Auction Daily: Please give us a brief overview of your business and how you came to specialize in pewter.
Bette and Mel Wolf: We started collecting American pewter in the mid-’60s and spread out into other antiques. Then, our house got too small, and we moved to a larger one where we could display our antiques better. In 1974, we started our business, and our first show was in 1975. The criteria then was that we had to be home, so Mel was available to operate on Monday morning! He was an orthopedic surgeon and retired in 1998. When he retired, we were able to exhibit at more shows. As of November 2019, we retired from doing antique shows, and now we sell through our website, e-blasts, and on Bidsquare.
We have always specialized in pewter, and it has always been our first love. We published a book on our collection in 2006, which is the best reference book on identifying American pewter. It is titled An American Pewter Collection by Dr. Melvyn and Bette Wolf and is available online.
Auction Daily: Fine antique pewter items can sell for big money at auction, with a 1795 engraved communion flagon made by William Will holding a record price of nearly a quarter-million dollars! What is the most valuable or most memorable pewter item you have owned, handled, or sold?
Bette and Mel Wolf: Since we have been in business for so many years, it is hard to pick out one object as most memorable. We love it all, especially the 18th-century pieces.
Auction Daily: Tell us about pewter collectors. Do most enthusiasts just collect in this category, or do they extend their collections to other functional and/or decorative arts?
Bette and Mel Wolf: Pewter collectors are dedicated people. Their collections go in all directions. We know a collector who wants a plate from every American 18th-century maker. Another wants a porringer example from every American maker. Another wants Philadelphia pewter. Others just want to fill a cupboard. We’ve had collectors buying from us for 40 years. We find that most collectors don’t just collect pewter but other antiques as well.
Auction Daily: Who are some of the premier makers in the pewter category? And what makes a pewter item rare and valuable from a collector’s perspective?
Bette and Mel Wolf: What makes a pewter item rare and valuable has not changed in all these years. People are looking for good forms in good condition. We can sell a pewter plate for $500 and refuse to buy a similar-sized one by the same maker for $50 because the condition is not good or it has been repaired. One of the most famous 18th-century pewterers was William Will. He is like the Paul Revere of pewter. He was a sheriff in Philadelphia and a member of the First Continental Congress. His designs were of the highest quality and form.
Auction Daily: And finally, tell us a bit more about lot #1, a set of 5 American marked 18th-century measures, which are priced at $4,200. Its cataloging notes in part, “If you are a person who collects only American and 18th Century, you couldn’t find anything better.” What makes these measures off the chart good?
Bette and Mel Wolf: Marked American 18th Century measures are very rare. There has been research lately on the “A” mark, and we are learning more. This is the only set that we have ever had for sale in all our years in business.
For more information on Wolf Pewter and this sale, please visit Bidsquare.
Want to read more interviews with category experts? Auction Daily discussed the state of the art market with advisor Elisa Carollo earlier this summer.