The culture of collectors vintage has grown very large in recent years, with all kinds of memories being collected… furniture, motorcycles, license plates, old toys… just turn on the TV to get an idea of the strength of these subcultures. The nostalgia and the vintage style create a feeling very nice, and generate euphoria for the small details.
These collectibles are jewelry of silver and turquoise, made by native tribes in the southwestern United States. The Navajo indians and other tribes learned to work with silver, and began to make jewelry for personal use and then for exchange and commercial consumption. The availability of turquoise and silver, and the interest in new frontiers have allowed the craftsmen abastecessem the growing market of traders and tourists who arrived to the mountains by the railroads.
Me really interested in the beauty of the jewels and as a good nerd, the feed of my social networks were full of green stones and silver gray. I have resisted quite a lot, but some months ago I bought my first antique. The experience was very nice from the first contact, the photos in the collection and the choice. It was with Adam, @MorningStarVTG, who agreed to a chat about this work. I hope you enjoy it! It is not so long, but it was long because I put the answers in two languages.
Hi Adam, thank you for the jewelry and the chance to learn. First, what is a jewel, native american vintage?
Hello Luke! I was very excited to hear that you are so interested in native american jewellery! I will do my best to respond as honestly as I can. From what I know, vintage is anything 20 years or more. For me, jewelry native american vintage are worked pre-1960. I do not collect anything made after that point. I feel that there is a large amount of jewelry produced in mass after more than 60 years. For me, something mass produced, it becomes something less special, since many people have the same design.
From what I understand, vintage is anything 20 years or older. To me vintage Native American jewelry is crafted pre-1960s. I don’t collect anything after that point. I feel like after the 60s there is a lot of mass produced jewelry. To me mass produced makes something less special, since many people have the same design.
And this jewellery of silver is something that the tribes did traditionally, or an art that at some point of the story was transmitted through contact with the immigrants?
Jewellery of silver was taught to the people the Navajo by mexicans in the second half of the 1800’s. Before that, the native north americans were making the most of your jewelry using brass. After the silver was displayed, they began to prefer the color of silver against the skin. I see the people Navajo elaborating on most of the silver jewellery, but many members of other indian tribes were also employed to create products of silver for trading posts before 1960.
Silversmithing was originally taught to the Navajo people by Mexicans in the later half of the 1800s. Before that point, Native Americans crafted the most jewelry out of brass. Once silver was introduced, Native Americans prefered the color of silver over brass against their skin.I see the Navajo people crafting the majority of silver but many members of other indian tribes were employed to create silver goods for trading posts before the 1960s.
– So there has always been a market, a real industry for this kind of work? When has that marketing begun? Do you have any idea of how valuable was this kind of work?
As far as I know, the american southwest has become very popular in the early 1900’s. I would say that it was at this time that the popularity and production of goods of silver gained strength. Jewelry and other souvenirs indigenous were sold in trading posts and gift shops along the train routes. It is difficult to know what was the value, but I have seen catalogs of old, selling the jewelry for $ 1- $ 5. Obviously they were not so rare when there was a flow of production, and the fluctuation in the price can be quite dramatic, so I don’t know to say if they were considered expensive or not at the beginning of the century XX.
From what I understand the early 1900s brought popularity to the southwest. I would say that is when the popularity and production of silver goods picked up. Jewelry and other Native American souvenirs were sold at trading posts and gift shops along train routes. The value is hard for me to tell but I’ve seen old catalogs with jewelry prices from $1-$5. Obviously it wasn’t the rare when it was being produced and fluctuation in price is dramatic so I don’t understand if this was expensive or not for the early 1900s.
Among these tribes that produced jewels: are There any more known? The work is anonymous, such as the folk art and japanese, or are famous artists?
I would say that people Navajoé most associated with the creation of products in sterling silver. There are thousands of artists and hundreds (if not thousands) of families who created works in silver. Is a list of really awesome artists. The book “Hallmarks of the Southwest” by Barton Wright has a list as well extensive. Some I remember the head are the families Chee, Tahe, and Begay. Most of the jewelry that I collect are anonymous, because prior to the use of marking of the artist. One of the official stamps that I know that guarantee high quality is to the IUF or the United Indian Traders Association. If you find an antique piece with that mark means that it was created by a good artist native american.
I would say the Navajo people are most associated with crafting silver goods. There are thousands of artists and hundreds if not thousands of families that created the silver work. It is an overwhelming list of artists. The book, “Hallmarks of the Southwest” by Barton Wright has an extensive list. The few I can recall off hand are Chee, Tahe, and Begay families. Most of the jewelry I tend to collect are anonymous since it predated the use of artist hallmarks. One of the earlier hallmarks that I know means high quality is IUF or United Indian Traders Association. If you find an old piece with that hallmark, it means it was crafted by the top Native American artist.
What were the main materials used? I see a lot of silver, and a lot of turquoise. Have you any reason for this stone to be so used? Some special meaning, or is its beauty, maybe availability?
I think that the beauty and the availability of this type of stone in the southwest of North America is exactly the reason. I’ll pass the photo of a flyer that was distributed by trading-posts, explaining a bit about the history of turquoise and silver jewelry.
I think the beauty and availability of this type of stone in the North American southwest is exactly the reason. I will send you the photo of the pamphlet that was handed out by the trading posts, which explains a little bit about the history of turquoise and silver jewelry.
Cool! And as it is the first jewels were made? You know what kind of techniques they used to make the drawings?
The tools used to make the markings were chisels, files, hammers and tools of dye. At the beginning everything was more manual, but, eventually, some parts began to use mechanical processes to flatten the silver, getting to a level that could not be done by human hands. Other companies, such as Bell, used a process almost all mechanized, and have very little to do with the indigenous natives. Many collectors do not want the parts produced as well. Personally, I never buy or watching anything made by companies such as Bell.
The tools used for making imprints were chisels, files, hammers, and die tools. In the beginning most everything was hand done but eventually some pieces used for the mechanical process of flattening the silver to the point that could not be done by human hand. Other companies such as Bell used an almost all mechanized process and having little to do with Native Americans at all. Many collectors do not want pieces produced in this way. I personally never buy or sell anything made by companies such as Bell.
And will these designs and drawings have in jewelry have any meaning?
Some have, but most of the times these symbols were made to attract tourists. Symbols such as the serpent would never be used without the encouragement of the white merchants, because the Navajo believed that it was a bad omen. Other symbols such as the “torso turning” (cruz gamada) and the arrow that I have seen in the first few parts have meanings in the indigenous community. Most of the time, pieces that were collected by our own native north americans, presenting designs of simple geometric and focus on the good stones of turquoise.
In some pieces they do but in most cases the symbols were meant to attract tourists. Symbols such as the snake would never be used without the encouragement of the white traders, because the Navajo believe it is a bad omen. Other symbols such as the whirling log and arrow I have seen used on early Native American pieces and hold significance in the Native American community. Most times pieces that were collected by Native Americans feature simpler geometric designs and centers on nice turquoise stones.
It seems to Me that, at some point in the story… as it happens with the traditional work here in Brazil and around the world, all the artisans must have started to do the same thing, trying to shed the “tourist” wants to buy, that is different from what they collect amongst themselves. There are special events that mark this change of focus, or the division of periods in the history of craftmanship in traditional north american?
You’re right! Many items are classified as “Period Fred Harvey”, in spite of the person Fred Harvey does not have anything to do with the production of jewelry. In the late 1800s-early 1900s, Fred Harvey was largely responsible for the increase of tourism in the southwest, because of its hotels and other enterprises, to accommodate those who traveled to the new american frontier. Most of the travelers were unaware of the culture, but even so they were fascinated by the indigenous peoples, and wanted the jewelry produced by them.The indians began to produce jewellery with designed, that were more interesting for tourists than simple and heavy pieces of silver.
You are correct! Many items are referred to the “Fred Harvey Era” even though the person “Fred Harvey” did not have anything to do with the production of jewelry. In the late 1800s-early 1900s Fred Harvey was attributed to the increase in southwest tourism, due to his hotels and other business endeavours to accommodate those traveling to the new American frontier. Most travelers were uneducated yet fascinated by the Native American people and wanted to collect jewelry produced by them.Native Americans began producing jewelry with symbols on it which interested the tourists more so than heavy simpler silver pieces.
And in the midst of this all, how was it that you started to collect and sell jewelry vintage?
I started looking and sell jewelry indigenous people in the first time I saw someone using a charm bracelet turquoise blue. It was a very unusual and new for me, but I liked the visual. I started looking for a bracelet enjoyable for me, but I had the feeling that all the store were charging a lot of money for that I liked. I ended up finding a bracelet within my budget with an online store, and I immediately fell in love with the style. I started to make contact with other dealers and the collecting many parts for me.My collection has grown so much that I had to start selling some. I can’t stop collecting then once in a while I sell something from my collection. I have had hundreds of designs, and handle many items is the best education. I find it hard to learn only with books and photos, so collecting has been a great source of knowledge.
I personally got into finding and selling Native American jewelry when I first saw someone wearing a turquoise bracelet. It was very unusual and new to me, but I really liked the way it looked. I began looking for a nice bracelet for myself, but it seemed every store was asking a lot of money for the designs I liked most. Eventually I found the bracelet I could affords us through the shop online and fell in love with the Native American style instantly. I started making contacts with other dealers and collecting many pieces for myself. My collection grew so much I had to start to sell some pieces.I can’t stop collecting so I eventually sell bits and pieces of my collection off. I have had hundreds of designs and handling that many items is the best education. It’s hard to learn from books and pictures only for me so collecting has been an excellent source of knowledge.
How to know which to buy? How do you know the origin, age and legitimacy of a piece?
It is very difficult to figure out. I try to buy only from trusted sources, and examine very well the stone and the craft in general every time I get a piece. If you do not hit, and I realize that it’s not real, I not seeing.
It is very difficult to tell. I try and buy only from trusted sources and I examine the stone and the overall craftsmanship when I receive the piece. If it doesn’t check out the the real deal I won’t sell it.
You have the goldfields memorable? The Top three findings?
Hmmm. I collect all types of items, and my top three would probably be jewelry. I collect many things military rare, so I think that my best prospecting sites are in this category. Although I have done some very good business with jewelry that I encouraged you enough. One that I remember well, and I wanted to still have, has a huge bracelet Thunderbird hand made in sterling silver. It was really amazing and I think that I paid less than $ 70 for it. It is very difficult to say goodbye to things you love, but I ended up selling and now regret because I never saw something like that.
Hmmm. I collect all sorts of items so my top three probably wouldn’t pertain to jewelry. I collect a lot of rare militaria so I think my top thrifting experiences would fall in that category. Although I have received some very good deals on jewelry that have excited me in the past. One piece I remember well, and wish I still had, was a huge handmade sterling thunderbird cuff. It was truly an amazing design and I probably paid less than $70 for it. It is very hard to part with things you love but I did sell it and now I regret it since I have never seen another like it.
Which makes it a rare jewel?
Every week I see many items and I consider it rare when it is a thing that I have not seen before. Has some models that I have seen produced many times, therefore, I do not consider rare. It is expected that the older it is, the more rare it is, since people usually do not take care very well of their possessions and jewelry they break easy. It is very difficult to say what a collector seeks. I collect jewelry pre-1960’s style souvenir because it is what pleases my eye.
I look at many designs weekly so if it is a piece I have not seen before I would consider it rare. Many times I have seen the same piece produced many times, therefore I would not consider it rare. The older the rarer I would expect, since people do not care for their possessions and end up breaking jewelry regularly. It’s very hard to say what a collector looks for. I collect pre-1960s souvenir style jewelry because it is what appeals to my eye.
What are the product highlights among native american jewellery?
I would say that the bracelets are a classic. Also necklaces “heishi”, or necklaces with nuggets of turquoise. Rings are also a piece of jewelry that you see many native americans vestubdi when posing for photos. The more jewelry the better. There was a time that they don’t leave the house without wearing the most jewelry that could. They represented wealth.
I mean I would say the bracelet are a staple of Native American jewelry. Also heishi necklaces or style necklaces. Rings are also the piece of jewelry you will see many Native Americans wearing when posing for pictures. The more jewelry the better. For awhile Native Americans would not leave their homes without wearing as much jewelry as they could. Jewelry represented wealth.
I would say that the market for this type of jewel, vintage is almost non-existent in Brazil. The style is common to… many brands use the symbols, motifs, and formats as a reference, but that’s okay “costume”. Looking at things from far away, mainly by the online community, it sounds like you have a great small group of people fascinated in collecting. This is new?
I think that the native craft american has fascinated the peoples of North America since they have made contact with the tribes. I feel that currently this was much more visible because of social media. That in turn probably drives even more the current popularity. I am having to pay a lot more now to purchase items from before, even in a short period of 3 years.
And it’s not just in North America but throughout the world, such as Japan, for example. This is even more impressive. When I went there, I saw jewelry, vintage exposed in all the shops. What is the appeal?
I think that the crafts are unique and the aesthetic in general are the reasons that resonates with people. It is also good to be able to buy a strap style clamp, which is adjustable, allowing nearly any person to find and buy a bracelet and the fit. The variety of different styles is also amazing.
Do you have any advice for a young aspiring collector?
Do not do it! Joke. But it is very addictive. I would start by buying only from people you trust very much, to not spend money on copies of low-quality and fake products. That is the feeling most disappointing. Spend money on something that you will end up hating. After buying some of the good things you will understand better what to look for. Collecting jewelry of high quality has been the best education and allowed me to do some business very good. Reading books is also important, so you better appreciate their investment. I don’t know if already suggested the book “Fred Harvey Jewelry 1900-1955” by Dennis June, but in my opinion it is essential reading. It is my favorite feature for the type of jewelry that I focus in my collection.
Don’t do it! I’m just kidding. It is very addicting though. I would stick with people you trust in the beginning so the not to spend money on fake or poor quality knock offs. That is the most disappointing feeling. Paying money for something that you eventually hate. After acquiring a few good pieces you will understand better what to look for. Collecting high quality jewelry has been the best education and has allowed me to make some very nice deals for myself. Also reading up on books is pretty important so you have an appreciation for what you are investing in.I don’t know if I have suggested the book, “Fred Harvey Jewelry 1900-1955by Dennis June, but it is a must have in my opinion. It is my favorite resource is the type of jewelry I focus on collecting.
And for those who do not appreciate the hunt? What are some good contemporary artists creating jewelry native, or in the style of the jewelry of the american southwest?
I wanted to I could mention some, but I tend to stay with the hunt. Articles of silver contemporaries are, generally, much more expensive and I’d rather have something old but unique rather than something produced today. To name one, I think that Larry Smith does some parts really amazing, but if I were to spend that kind of money, I would rather buy something with more age.
I wish I could name some. I usually stick to the hunt. Contemporary silver artits are usually far more expensive and I prefer to have an older one of a kind piece rather than something that is being produced currently. I guess Larry Smith makes some really killer pieces, but if I were to spend that kind of money I would prefer it the piece to have some age to it.
I would like to thank Adam for the chat. I hope that you have enjoyed. I liked it! I learned too much about the job in silver made by the indians in the southwest of North America, that apparently has always been done to the trade, pledge, and exchange, mainly with tourists and visitors. If you have more questions, put in the comments that I see if I can get more detailed responses!
Those who want to keep track of this type of jewel can follow him on Instagram @MorningStarVTG, for photos of jewelry the navajo and also of military items vintage. The price is a lot more interesting by buying direct from the collectors, because they are the ones who sell the stores, which need to put their costs in the price.
If you roll the interest for anything just get in contact with him to negotiate it, being that he has quite the thing in addition to that already posted on the internet. The parts that he really are willing to sell are in a little shop on Etsy. It is a reliable seller, very informative, and quiet to handle. The bracelet and the necklace on the first photo of this post I bought with it, and it was a pleasure to do business!
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