Can I have a little loop soldered onto my pewter medal?
April 17, 2010 3:10 PM   Subscribe

What's the story on working with pewter?

I have an old medal (about 1.25 inches in diameter) that used to have a little loop (about 1/8 or 1/16 inch in diameter) on the edge. It weighs 5/8 of an ounce. I could use it as a pendant or put it on a key chain. The loop broke off years ago and it's been lying in a drawer. I suspect the medal is made of pewter: it's sort of "pewter"-colored, with raised (relief) images on each side. The edges of the images are quite well-defined and have not worn down over the years. But I don't really know what it's made of.

First of all, what else could it be made of? And which crafts-person could I take it to who would give me an authoritative answer? A jeweler?

Second, if it is pewter (or whatever it is), can a loop be re-attached to the edge (a little less than 1/16 in. thick)? Can you solder pewter? I don't mean myself — I mean can a jeweler do it? Or some other kind of crafts-person?

And third, if not — how else could I re-attach it to my key chain? I'd rather not drill a hole in it (which I could do myself); mainly because the images are too close to the edge and the hole would go through them. Otherwise, I would have no objection.
posted by feelinggood to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
Stick your nail in the back of it, if it's pewter you'll be able to leave a mark. I have no advice re: working with pewter, however.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:28 PM on April 17, 2010

I can't give any advice on what kind of metal it is I'm afraid, but if it is pewter, I'd suggest not wearing it as a pendant as pewter is harmfull to you if worn on skin for lengths of time. (If it helps, i remember old pewter at least having a dark, dull grey colour to it.)
posted by sockpim at 3:39 PM on April 17, 2010

if it is pewter, I'd suggest not wearing it as a pendant as pewter is harmfull to you if worn on skin for lengths of time.

To be more specific, often old pewter contains lead, which is of course dangerous to one's health, and can be absorbed through the skin.
posted by limeonaire at 3:46 PM on April 17, 2010

All modern pewter, since old Roman material, is basically soft tin, with a smidgen to a quarter weight of copper, with, maybe, a little antimony, and has been a "safe" material from which to make plates, cups and other daily eating utensils, for several hundred years. If a formulation contained appreciable lead by the 1700s, it was poor pewter smithing (or in Colonial America where pewter and silver were both worked and sold by smiths such as Paul Revere) silver smithing to sell it as pewter, as it was adulterated pewter, at best, and cheat goods, usually, and wouldn't softly burnish in daily use like lead free material does. Pewter solders well with any of the low heat silver solders; you can use electronic solders, which contain lead, but the silver solders will look better. Any jeweler with a repair shop on premises can make a neat, permanent repair of this, by soldering a stainless steel or nickel wire wear loop onto the edge of the pendant - shouldn't be more than 5 minutes work, and a few dollars expense to you, and the harder metal of such a loop will resist deformation and wear on a neck chain much better than a pewter one.
posted by paulsc at 6:26 PM on April 17, 2010

It's possible that your pendant is not pewter however, but pot metal (usually 88% copper and 12% lead, but also occasionally made with less copper, some tin, some antimony and/or bismuth). Pot metal was popular in early die casting, as it is a material that molds well, due to its low melt point and sharp transition phase characteristic (from liquid to solid), and it isn't magnetically active (won't magnetize or be heated by eddy currents from nearby electrical gear). It's still used in lost wax process casting of some jewelry, like brooches, amulets, and even necklaces, particularly if the final pieces will be plated with better metals to have some resistance to skin acids.

You could still silver solder, or lead solder a wear wire onto the edge of it.
posted by paulsc at 6:41 PM on April 17, 2010

Stick your nail in the back of it, if it's pewter you'll be able to leave a mark.

Not necessarily. I have a pewter coffee cup which is hard enough so that I can't scratch it with my finger nail.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:33 PM on April 17, 2010

"... The edges of the images are quite well-defined and have not worn down over the years. ..."

Sorry, I meant to include this part of the OP's post, as a clue that the piece in question might be die cast, or lost wax cast, which makes my immediate previous comment a lot more intelligible. It's possible that the piece in question was made by drop forging, which is common for coinage, but coinage generally uses harder alloys of metals than pewter, so that the common multi-strike method of coin making raises and sharpens the artwork with additional press blows, against the very hard coin dies.

The combination of a fairly soft metal that would break its hangar loop in the first place, and sharp image details after some years of wear, argue strongly for die casting of alloys like pot metal, or perhaps lost wax casting of pewter, as the material/method of manufacture for the piece.
posted by paulsc at 7:57 PM on April 17, 2010

Response by poster: It's not a coin and not pretending to be a coin. It's about 45 years old. Hope this helps.
posted by feelinggood at 8:53 PM on April 17, 2010

I've done a mess of pewter casting over the years, usually using soapstone molds.

Yes - historically pewter contained three parts copper to one part lead. While modern pewter is a mixture of tin, antimony and copper. You can solder either of these metals with a eutectic solder, but I'm not sure how long that would last. Pewter is not exactly rugged and there are buckets full of broken medieval pewter tokens (my personal area of interest) in the bowels of various museums and private collections out there.

If the piece itself doesn't have deep sentimental value to you (e.g. it was my father's pewter dubus and not just a cool pewter dubus of a design you like) something you could try is to prepare a rubber mold from your original and recast it. Note: I just picked a link at random and have no experience with that particular product.

You can enough pours out of a good rubber mold that you could break the loop off of your new little pewter medallion every month or two for a couple lifetimes.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:45 AM on April 19, 2010

Uh, for anyone who sees this later, historically pewter contained three parts TIN to one part lead. Now back to looking for the other ask me I answered a while back.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:37 PM on April 30, 2010

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