Tom and Pat Hooper started their journey with pewter 25 years ago when they wanted accessories to hold their scent oils, bath salts and incense made in the United States.
The decision to add a metal foundry to their business was based on customer requests for accessories for their incense. The metal they would choose for their work was no accident. Tin was the ideal candidate because of its low melting point and its malleability.
“We could make some of these things out of brass or bronze, but you end up having temperatures to melt the brass and bronze around 1,425 to 1,450 degrees,” said Tom Hooper. “The environment created by this just didn’t match the same building. “
The perfume and incense trade could only prosper with a metal that could be worked at a lower temperature. So began the journey of Hooper’s tin.
First of all, the Hoopers needed the perfect space to host their new pewter business.
Soon after, they moved from Sacramento, Calif., To Louisiana, Missouri, to start the tin smelter. In 2015, they moved to Ste. Genevieve.
“We found a building we could actually live and work in that matched the space needs we needed, the amenities we wanted,” said Pat Hooper.
Now settled in, the Hoopers create handcrafted heirlooms under the Astral Sea Limited – or ASL Pewter brand.
ASL Pewter manufactures a variety of pewter pieces, from cups and cutlery, to salt shakers, tumblers, candlesticks and plates.
“We have adjusted what we manufacture to meet what people want or what they ask for,” said Tom Hooper. “We’re small enough to be able to make these adjustments. ”
Pewter has a deeply rooted history in America. In the early colonial period, tin was a more affordable option than silver. It cost less because it was easier to do.
The low melting point and malleable nature of tin contributed not only to its price, but also to its shorter lifespan. But it remained popular in colonial households until the 1800s.
When the Hoopers started, they acquired molds through auctions and online sales. They may have used cup molds from the 1700s, spoon molds from the 1600s, and medallion molds from the late 1800s.
Not only were they valuable as antiques, but many offered a glimpse into the periods when they were made.
In 2000, the Hoopers bought a foundry that had started at the turn of the 19th century in Pennsylvania. This prompted them to bring ToTo historical context to their designs, making simple items like spoons, candlesticks, and tableware that were common in early America.
“It prompted us to make the first American reproductions,” said Pat Hooper.
The process of heating and casting tin in an ancient American setting requires it to be melted in a liquid, then poured directly into a mold and allowed to harden. Since the melting point of tin is so low, it can even be done over a campfire using a crucible to contain the metal.
After pouring the tin into a mold, the part is left to harden. Finally, it is ground around the edges to achieve a uniform finish and polished for a clean and shiny look.
“The good news is if that doesn’t happen we can melt it,” Pat Hooper said.
The production of a single piece can vary from a few minutes to a few hours, or even several days. Having the store right downstairs streamlines the Hoopers’ mornings and daily activities.
Adding color to their pieces sets ASL Pewter apart. The Hoopers have recently started painting details on their pieces to make them stand out.
Frequent customer Deej Dambrauskas said she owned a “magnificent” set of wine glasses with painted details.
“You know, it’s a limited edition, and it’s gorgeous, and I use these mugs every night,” she said.