Sandby: A Milkmaid. ca. 1759, YCBA
Pyne: Milk Woman, 1805, MoL
What do pewter and tin have to do with costuming? Well, aside from the many expensive buttons Mr S and the Young Mr wish to sport, I got interested in the milk maids’ pails because of their similarity to the tinned kettles used by RevWar reenactors. The uses converged in December in a conversation I had with a colleague about Carl Giordano’s beautiful kettles. (He made my wash basin, but my kettles came from Missouri because I needed them very quickly; the fur trade & rendezvous reenactors have similar material culture interests and needs, because of time period & culture overlap.)
Milk Below Maids, 1793, V&A
The milk pails look like tin, don’t they? One from ca. 1759, the other from 1805, and both appear to be carrying shiny, seamed metal buckets with brass details at the base and rim. The captions call them pewter, though. So I went to the V&A and the Museum of London looking for pails, but only found more milk maids.
I began to wonder: if the pails were really made of pewter, wouldn’t they be awfully heavy? And wouldn’t there be extant examples? Pewter is highly collectible. There’s a George II pewter milk pail on Worthpoint, but it looks nothing like the pails in the images. Is pewter ever so…shiny? And I’ve never seen seams in pewter the way they appear in the Pyne illustration.
Here’s something that reminds me of that George II milk pail. I think I trust the Met more than I trust an online seller. On the right is a “bucket carrier” from the National Trust (UK) Collections.
Mid-18th century dinner pail with cover, MMA
Mid-19th century bucket carrier, NTC (UK)
Google defines pewter thus:
- A gray alloy of tin with copper and antimony (formerly, tin and lead).
- Utensils made of this.
178, Collet: The Sailor’s Present, LWL
1785: Spring & Winter, LWL
Synonym: tin? That’s pretty interesting, even though I don’t trust Google with etymology. But don’t these tin kettles look a great deal like the milk maids’ buckets?
Carl Giordano Tinsmith: Kettles
The Giordano tin kettles can be made with brass ears (that’s the part the bail, or handle, goes through). Look at the ears in the photo, and at this detail from “Spring and Winter:”
Detail, Spring & Winter, 1785, LWL
The ears may be the best lead to follow. There are plenty of ears (handle attachments) if you search the Met for bucket or pail and limit the search the metalwork… but they’re bronze, and Roman. The National Trust (UK) doesn’t turn up much, or the Museum of London (yet).
ca. 1750: Silver cream pail, MFA
There’s a silver cream pail at the MFA, and it sort of looks like its handle attaches with ears, but not in the riveted-on kind of way, but in a purposeful and elegant way. This is just about where I start to ask myself why I care, but then a number of other questions present themselves, like:
- Where are the milk pails? Are there really no milk pails in museum collections? (Yes, this could be true)
- Was this pewter milk pail with attached measures specific to London, as my colleague thinks?
- How does milk taste when it spends quality time in pewter (or tin)?
- How heavy would a pewter milk bucket be?
Things to ponder as we prepare for heavy snow… In this state, that means dashing out for “French toast supplies.” I’m not originally from here, and I solemnly swear we are legitimately out of bread, eggs, and milk.