Portuguese Pewter Ware

In Portugal pewter workshops prospered at least since the 16th century, but the very rare use of pewterer marks make it very difficult to study, and it is therefore still mostly unknown.

Pewter was widely used aboard ships for its resistance both to corrosion and impact, not breaking as frequently as most pottery did.

Archaeological finds are rare. In the 1970s an assemblage has been found at the mouth of the Arade river, in the south of Portugal, and was said to bear late 17th century English pewterer marks.

It was dug up from the margin of the river by a bulldozer, together with rotten timbers, and bought by a private collector.

Two pewter plates have been found in Baleal, in the 1980s, on a 16th century wreck site at very shallow depths.

Another collection was recovered by an avocational archaeologist on the site of a late 17th century wreck, presumed to be the Grande Principessa di Toscanna, wrecked on the coast a few miles north of the village of Cascais, on December 1696. This flatware also bears pewterer's marks but has not yet been studied.

A stack of pewter plates was also found in the Faro A shipwreck, found in the late 1990s by sport divers off the south coast of Portugal.

The São Julião da Barra collection is therefore the fifth assemblage to have been found underwater in Portugal. It is presumed to date from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Collections of pewter ware are not very common on 16th and 17th century wreck sites. Although several Iberian wrecks from this period did yield small quantities of pewter flatware assemblages, such as the the Espiritu Santo (1554), Girona (1588), Sta. Maria de la Rosa (1588), and Atocha (1622), only the Trinidad Valencera (1588) has a collection of similar size (15 pieces).

Pewter from S. Julião da Barra (Photo: CNANS)

Pewter flatware was found on 3 of the 28 sites of archaeological relevance above mentioned: SJB1, SJB2, and SJB4. A total of 23 flatware items have been recovered, distributed by the different sites as shown on Table I below:

Table I
São Julião da Barra - Pewter Flatware

Ref. No.

Description

Provenience

0465.02.0016

Plate

SJB1/1994

0465.02.0017

Plate

SJB1/1994

63.04

Small plate

SJB4/1996-97

148.01

Plate

SJB2/1996-97

161.09

5 plates and 9 saucers

SJB1/1996-97

165.01

Deep dish

SJB2/1996-97

168.01

Deep dish

SJB2/1996-97

171.01

Plate

SJB2/1996-97

171.02

Plate

SJB2/1996-97

205.01

Plate

SJB2/1996-97

The six items found in the SJB2 area - believed to be the wreck of the Nossa Senhora dos Mártires - were embedded in the layer that prpoduced most artifacts and can therefore be related with the shipwreck.

None of the remaining pieces found in the area can be directly related to any of the shipwrecks sunk at S. Julião da Barra whose identity is known, and therefore be dated accurately within a narrow period of time.

   

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