From popular songs like “Silver Bells” instantly evoking the magic of Christmas, to century-old traditions like “silver anniversary” to celebrate 25 years of marriage, and age-old sayings like “born with a silver spoon in your mouth”, and shiny sterling trophies becoming a worldwide recognized symbol of victory, silver has been the metal of choice across key events and celebrations for generations.
Pewter also has a long tradition of being reserved for only the most special events, such as liturgical objects used in religious ceremonies, trophies used to reward soldiers and commemorate military victories, or the use of the kings, while its supply was scarce across Europe.
To this day, silver and pewter are used to produce elegant pieces, where tradition and fine designs meet exceptional craftsmanship. Their range of uses remains varied, and in this article we focus on one of the most joy-bringing of them all, gifting. But first, we will delve into a short history of how sterling silver and pewter became the sought-after materials they remain to this day.
A short history of silver
A short history of pewter
What makes sterling silver and pewter gifts popular
Silver gift traditions
Sterling silver and pewter gift ideas
A Short History of Silver
Silver is an extraordinary metal that played a central role in the development of money and in the advance of global trade. It was first mined about 5000 years ago, around 3000 BC, in Anatolia, now modern-day Turkey. Unsurprisingly, the mining of silver decisively contributed to the development of the first coins.
Indeed, what is thought to be the world’s first coin, the “Lydian Lion” as its name remains in history books, was born in Sardis, a neighboring region in modern-day Turkey, as an alloy of gold and silver around 610-600 BC.
Silver went on to contribute to the prosperity of Ancient Greece, then, as the center of silver mining shifted to Spain, it fed into the growth of the Roman Empire.
Later on, silver played a central role in connecting East and West through trade, thus contributing to the advance of global civilisation. Silver was scarce yet highly valued in China, so in the Middle Ages, European traders would use silver to buy gunpowder, tea, and silk from China and bring these rare commodities back to Europe.
Through the Spanish conquest of the Americas, European conquerors discovered silver in Bolivia, Peru and Mexico, and started trading South American silver for Chinese silk.
By the 17th century, silver was again responsible for a first on the monetary scene, as Spanish silver dollars, also known as “pieces of eight”, became the world’s first global currency.
The name ‘sterling silver’ also comes from silver’s history being intertwined with coins. The term sterling was formerly used to describe the standard of purity or quality of English coins.
Since Anglo-Saxon times, the British silver coins were made from an alloy that was 925 parts silver per 1000, the remaining 75 parts being copper. While Britain stopped using any silver in its coins in 1946, the money in the United Kingdom is still called the pound sterling and the term sterling now denotes the standard of purity for silver.
With such a rich history, and various benefits - its beauty, malleability, antibacterial properties, and ability to be recycled into another silver piece without losing its quality or purity, to name a few - sterling silver will always be highly useful and valuable.
As such, it continues to make for intricate pieces and fine gifts, and in a section below we dive deeper into some key customs and ceremonies whose gifting traditions are still highly linked to sterling silver.
A Short History of Pewter
Pewter is an extraordinary and fantastically versatile metal that has been used for millennia as symbols of wealth, power, and trophies celebrating victories, and also for more utilitarian purposes ranging from inkwells, to carafes, cups, kitchenware, and tableware.
However, pewter’s invention may have been an accident. Indeed, pewter is thought to have been invented in the Bronze Age. As bronze is an alloy mostly made of copper, with a small amount of tin, and pewter is an alloy mostly made of tin, with a small amount of copper (and an even smaller amount of antimony), it is hard to tell if the invention of pewter has been intentional or purely accidental.
Accident or not, pewter is more affordable than sterling silver, but, as some would argue, just as beautiful. As such, during the Middle Ages, when pewter was scarce, due to conflicts across Europe which limited tin production, pewter was mostly reserved for the wealthy. The story goes that Edward I of England had over 300 pewter kitchenware, but not one item made of sterling silver.
With the increased standard of living during the Renaissance, pewter gradually replaced wood and clay as the mainstream materials for kitchenware. As the art of casting had increased its complexity and finesse, across the ensuing centuries pewterware became increasingly desirable not just for utilitarian purposes, but also for its intricate designs and decorative purposes, and remains, to this day, a sought-after material for gifts of all kinds.
What Makes Sterling Silver and Pewter Gifts Popular
There are many reasons why customers continue to choose sterling silver and pewter gifts.
- For one thing, they are timeless pieces, especially when skilled craftsmanship meets classic design. Because of this, sterling silver and pewter items have a popular history of being passed down from generation to generation, earning them the reputation of being generational gifts.
- Then, silver is a precious metal, alongside gold and platinum, yet amongst the three, silver can be purchased for the least amount of money, making silver items a great choice for anyone’s shopping list.
- Pewter looks very similar to silver, yet is even more accessible, making it a great alternative for any special occasion.
Silver Gift Traditions
Silver has traditionally been a gift to mark special occasions, ceremonies, and milestones, such as Christmas, Weddings, Anniversaries, or Christenings. It was in the Victorian era that the tradition of gifting items made of silver was developed. But traditions may have started long before that. Indeed, the story of the traditional Christmas stocking began with silver coins and St. Nicholas, the fourth-century Greek saint. St Nicholas liked giving to those less fortunate, and preferred to stay anonymous. On one occasion, to support a man with three marriage-age daughters and no means to give them a dowry, St. Nicholas left a bag of silver coins in the oldest girl’s stockings which were left outside drying. The next day, he went back and left a bag of coins in the second oldest girl’s stockings. On the third day, the man waited for him. Word spread and soon everyone started hanging out stockings hoping they would get silver coins for Christmas.
Wedding gifts are another instance where sterling silver is a natural choice. The 25th wedding anniversary is actually denoted as the silver anniversary. The tradition, which has been traced by some sources to Ancient Rome and others to medieval Germany, seems to have started with husbands or friends gifting the wife a silver wreath for their hair to mark the occasion. While wreaths made of silver may have gone out of fashion as a popular headpiece, the tradition of gifting silver to commemorate 25 years of marriage remained. When reviewing occasions when silver is a traditional choice, the age-old saying “born with a silver spoon in your mouth” also comes to mind. Christening gifts were originally given as a small gesture of support for a child’s future, taking the form of small items of material value. Given the antibacterial properties of silver, that made it a perfect candidate for a gift of material value that a baby can use, probably contributing to gifts like sterling silver baby cups still being popular today.
Sterling Silver and Pewter Gift Ideas
Inkwells are an especially unique gift to mark key academic and professional milestones, such as graduation, the first job, or a significant promotion, and equally appropriate as a symbol of gratitude, appreciation, and recognition to your business partners, clients, or most stellar employees. While no longer traditionally in use, inkwells have echoed high education and social status for centuries, and ornate pewter or sterling silver inkwells have been and continue to be a reflection of the fine taste of their owner. Today, they remain sought-after home or office decor, making for a high-end gift traditionally offered to newly appointed justices and lawyers, but also suitable for loved ones and business connections, alike. Just imagine a majestically crafted sterling silver inkwell as a personal touch added to a high-earned corner office, making them a perfect gift. To learn more about inkwells, their history, and what makes them a fine gift, read more here + link. You can add a personal touch through our engraving service + link.
Julep cups. Few drinks inspired their own glasses and became such an icon as the mint julep cups. Quintessentially southern and synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, when approximately 120,000 such mint juleps are consumed each year, the julep cups are truly a generational gift. Frequently personalized, with monograms and dates to mark special occasions, julep cups have traditionally been handed down from generation to generation, seeing a far greater role than to serve mint julep at a dinner party. That said, they will always look good decorating a shelf or as the centerpiece of a table. Their myriad of uses makes them a versatile gift for every occasion, popular with people and organizations alike, to mark life events such as christenings, graduations, and weddings, as corporate awards, and even as trophies to the winners of horse races or local golf tournaments. To learn more about julep cups, and how to add a personal touch, read more here + link.
Sterling silver baby cups are a traditional gift for new babies or baptisms. Most silver cups are engraved with the baby’s name and date of birth, making it a treasured keepsake. Dating back to the Victorian era, the tradition of gifting newborns or babies who are being Christened items made of sterling silver, such as spoons or cups, stems from sterling silver being a symbol of wealth. Thus, gifting the newborn a sterling silver item was seen as a token of material wealth, or an investment in the baby’s future. Some believed this would bring wealth to the child throughout their life. A more practical purpose of sterling silver baby cups stems from silver’s antibacterial properties, making items made of sterling silver perfect for a newborn. Sterling silver baby cups remain one of the most popular new baby or baptism gifts. You can add a personal touch, such as the name of the baby, the date of birth, or a special message to the baby and the parents through our engraving service + link.
Tankards. Tankards make for popular gifts for graduation, anniversaries, or retirements. Dating back to Ancient Rome, early tankards were originally made of wood, and used as vessels for drinking. In more recent times, tankards made of sterling silver and pewter became the norm. Frequently the tankards are engraved to mark special moments, and are more commonly used for decoration than for drinking. However, there is a certain appeal of drinking from a tankard bearing one’s name or a special message. Whether they are purchased to be displayed on a mantlepiece or to otherwise mark a special occasion, sterling silver and pewter tankards remain valued gifts to this day. To add that feeling of ownership which is a key part of tankards’ appeal, you can add an engraving through our custom engraving service + link.
Sterling silver dollar and half dollar shot glasses. Just like the light at the end of the tunnel gives the viewer hope, a shot glass can delight the drinker with an intricate design at the bottom of the glass. In the case of the sterling silver Dollar Shot Glass and the Half Dollar Shot Glass, the two display at the bottom of the shot glass the beautiful coinage struck by the US Mint in 1975 and 1976 to commemorate the Bicentennial anniversary of the United States. Both the Kennedy half dollar and the Eisenhower dollar coins bear the double date 1776-1976. The silver dollar and half-dollar, respectively, actually form the base of the shot glasses, so both sides are visible and on display. These shot glasses make for popular gifts for bachelor and bachelorette parties, birthdays and other special occasions. Besides the coins honoring the United States Bicentennial, there are many other designs to fit weddings and other occasions, or you can add a personal touch with custom engraving or by setting another coin or medallion into the base of the shot glass, making this shot glass a totally unique and personalized gift.
Animal Head Shot Glasses are another example of popular gifts for bachelor and bachelorette parties, birthdays, anniversaries, and any modern home. One does not have to be a passionate huntsman hanging deer heads on the wall to appreciate the intricate design and unique look of pewter animal head shot glasses. They can make for decor pieces for any modern home, displayed on a mantlepiece mouth-down to reveal the pewter animal mounted at the base, yet are fully functional shot glasses when flipped upside down, and each animal head makes a stable three-point stand. With varied designs, ranging from eagles, to donkeys, foxes, and more, they can also make for collectible pieces or just a way to express one’s personality by going beyond basic shot glass designs. To create the perfect custom gifts, you can customize the shot glasses, or add an engraving + link.
A pewter picture frame is a perfect gift for any occasion. With timeless styles, and the elegance of sterling silver, picture frames are a great addition to any home or office, that can be cherished for many generations to come. Whether it is the birth of a child, a graduation, a wedding, a milestone anniversary, or a significant work event, special moments deserve to be preserved and displayed for years to come, and a finely designed sterling silver photo frame is the finishing touch in an attempt to cherish those key moments. You can choose from our wide variety of photo frame designs, all classical yet modern heirlooms. To make them even more special, you can monogram them, or add a key date or special message through our custom engraving service + link.