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The cargo of the so-called 'Pewter Wreck', has been described by a UK specialist as "unique in the 120-year history of the study and collecting of pewter".

Divers from Anchor Research and Salvage (a division of Global Marine Exploration, a private company based in Tampa, Florida) found the remains of a 16th century ship and its cargo of European trade goods off Punta Cana on the island of Hispaniola in 2011.

Under contract from the Underwater Cultural Heritage division of the Dominican Minister of Culture's office, the site was excavated across three dive seasons - the task finally completed earlier this year.

Chief among the finds are some 1200 well-preserved pewter sad and hollow wares including plates, platters, porringers, salts and flagons in several sizes and styles. Some carry the marks for pewterers from the Flemish centres of Antwerp and Bruges, but it seems much was made in England specifically for the export market.

Shedding New Light

Up to a third bears the touchmark of Alderman Sir Thomas Curtis, the most important London pewterer of the period, whose mark also appears on much of the pewter from the Mary Rose.

Many other makers' marks are unrecorded, with the range of forms and styles already challenging orthodoxies in the collecting community. Until now, recorded objects of this type and date, numbered in the tens, not the hundreds.

The size and diversity of the group, and the absence of signs of use (ownership marks, knife marks etc), suggest these were new trade goods lost on their way to one of the Spanish colonies between the late 1540s and the early 1560s.

According to procedure, 75% of all finds from the Punta Cana wreck will remain in the Dominican Republic and become museum exhibits. But, following a 'division' process, Global Marine Exploration are free to sell their quarter share on the open market.

While the gold and silver artefacts, including some rare Spanish coinage, are being sold in the USA, upon the advice of Martin Roberts, the UK specialist who worked as a consultant on the site, the pewter and other pieces of early metalwork will be offered in the UK.

The consignment is currently in transit to Doncaster but Wilkinson's, specialists in early furniture and works of art, expect to offer up to 230 pieces at their sale on November 24. Estimates are yet to be set.