Why Tutania?

This blog is named after a copper alloy probably produced in Birmingham during the 19th Century. In 1866 Samuel Timmins makes reference to a metal called Tutania “which was said to take its name from one Tutin, the inventor”, and was used primarily in the production of shoe buckles. Fleming and Honour (1977) give this definition: ‘Tutania. An alloy of copper, calamine [zinc oxide], antimony and tin patented in 1770 by William Tutin whose Birmingham firm (Tutin and Haycroft) produced small domestic articles in it’. However an inquiry with the patent office elicited only one patent (No. 1019) by Mr Tutin in 1772 for a method of varnishing buckles.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Tutania as being ‘an earlier name for Britannia-metal [pewter]’. It then proceeds to give several ‘recipes’ for its production that contain considerable variation. However Bates (1860) suggests that Tutin’s Tutania was originally named Tutinic (its main rival being the Chinese alloy Tutenac, a brass containing nickel). The introduction of Britannia metal from Sheffield led to the renaming of Tutinic to Tutania, enabling it to still indicate its paternity whilst imitating the new arrival.

There is also a Tutania song. Composed by Mr John Freeth (1790) it is perhaps best viewed as a prototype advertising jingle rather than a work of art, and offers the following insights:

Some for Pinchbeck, some for Plated,
Some for Soft-White, some for Hard;
Everyone is overrated,
With Tutania, when compared.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

‘All to one good soul must truckle,
He that does the rest eclipse,
Makes a Song and forms a Buckle,
Whilst a Pipe’s between his Lips.’


Bates, W. 1860: ‘Tooth and Egg’ Metal. Notes and Queries 10 (2nd Series) (246): 214.

Fleming, J. and Honour, H. 1977: The Penguin Dictionary of Decorative Arts. London:Viking.

Freeth, J. 1790: The political Songster, or a Touch at the times &c. Birmingham: Thomas Pearson.

2 thoughts on “Why Tutania?

  1. Hello,

    I am writing from the small town of Shirley, Massachusetts USA. I found you interesting site as I was searching for information regarding Tutaina metal alloy. I recently purchased a pair of 18th century cast hard white metal buckles. The color was wrong for silver or close plate, they looked similar to old Nickel silver. They do not attract a magnet although the pin through the chape does. A friend suggested Tutania or Packtong-Do not know how one could tell -test for nickel? By the way, a few week ago I found a early 19th century domed vent -hole button backmarked “Pakfong” button dealers say it is unique in their experience. Very high nickel content as it weakly attracts a magnet-best guess is German or Austrian probably Von Gersdorff. Regards -Let me know if you would like a picture of the set of buckles if they prove to be Tutaina will be a nice decoration for your page.

    Kind regards,
    Bob Milburn

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