Do Due Diligence when Researching Native American jewelry

What is Due diligence? It is business term used when describing research before financial transactions with a company.  Commonly used when considering investing in the stock of a company, a person should do their own due diligence, their own research, to learn about the company’s products, debts, stability.

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When it comes to researching Native American jewelry, it refers to the care a person takes in gathering factual details when selling or buying, whether in a brick and mortar store, in person, through Craig’s List, on eBay, etsy or another website.

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Due diligence should be done by the seller before an item is represented. In legal terms it is often said that “reasonable care” should be taken “by a reasonable person”. This implies that in some cases it is impossible to state absolute facts with certainty, but due diligence represents a seller’s very best effort at representation.

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However, there is a wide variety in sellers, some do Sherlock-like research, others hardly any at all and some knowingly misrepresent. Add to that, the fact that in the reference books available (and internet sources, don’t get me started), there are some accidental errors and some blatant falsifications which might mislead either a seller or buyer when researching.

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Even hallmarks aren’t a perfect solution. First of all, they don’t appear on very old items and when they did start appearing, it is well known that an artist might change his or her hallmark several times over a lifetime, more than one artist might use the same hallmark, and then there are the forgeries that not only copy the piece, but the hallmark as well. So hallmarks are a piece of the puzzle but not definitive.

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Just like with stocks, it is best if a buyer does due diligence of their own before dealing with a particular seller and buying a Native American piece, especially if it is expensive.

rosieOnce both the seller and buyer have done their due diligence, a certain amount of gut feeling and trust or distrust will weigh in.

I’m using a rooster pin as an example of the various scenarios that might occur.

This vintage sterling silver and turquoise rooster pin came in a collection that consisted predominately of high quality verifiable Native American made items.

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Vintage Sterling Silver Rooster Pin

It tests positive for sterling silver. The clasp is a standard ring safety clasp that has been available since about the 1940s.

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Ring safety clasp

How the Pin Clasp Helps to Date the Piece

In doing research, a seller might come upon this almost identical pin on page 143 of the book Southwest Silver Jewelry and think “Great, this is a 1940s Pueblo pin and I’m going to ask $250 for it !! Whoo hoo !!”  But note the use of the words “possibly” and “probably” in the book caption.  And note the title of the book is “Southwest”, not Native American.

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page 143 Southwest Silver Jewelry

But  since the back of the pin is not shown in the book, the seller would not be able to compare the backs of the two pins which often gives important clues such as any hallmark or other stamping, the type of pin finding used, signs as to whether the pin was handmade or cast…………….

The seller CAN and SHOULD examine the pin he or she has for sale under high powered light and magnification.

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The back of the pin clearly shows signs that it is a cast piece.

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Back of pin showing it is a cast piece.

With minimal cleaning, you can “read the fine print” it says “MADE IN MEXICO”

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Back of pin showing “MADE IN MEXICO”

What does this all mean?

First the obvious – the vintage sterling silver rooster pin is not Native American made, it was cast in Mexico.

Then the rest becomes a bit muddy………the pin in the book may or may not be NA made. It might be hand made or cast – to me it has the look of a cast piece.  It could be a cast Mexican pin.

Without being able to see the back of the pin in the book, it is a leap of faith to bank on the pin in the book being NA made. But if it IS, then that either means the Mexican pin is a copy.

OR………….

The Mexican pin might be the original and the pin in the book is a copy……..I just have no way of verifying one way or the other.

Bottom line, in our store, this pin will be listed in our “Bargain Barn” as a vintage sterling silver pin made in Mexico.

And I will hold the pin in the book suspect.

Detective-Girl

Paula

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Do Due Diligence when Researching Native American jewelry

  1. Thanks Paula for this great post. I buy/sell Native American jewelry and have been doing so for several years. I know that I have a lot to learn and learn something new almost every day, some of which comes from your posts, Paula. My pet peeve are people that sell on internet sites where so many pieces are misidentified. I saw the other day where a person was presenting a cactus pin that was, according to them, made by a known Navajo artist. Fortunately they took a picture of the back and I could see the hallmark of “JJ”. Well this is Jonette Jewelry – all costume, not Navajo, not sterling (pewter), not even of much value. I brought this to the attention of the seller and they still continued with the listing the way it was. To help me with hallmarks, I have purchased several books (Hougart, Wright, all of the Schaff books) and found several websites to try to help me with identification. However, as you mentioned, there can be SEVERAL silversmiths who used that particular hallmark and some of those only made a few pieces and thus were never recorded in the books or on websites. So then the next problem comes in trying to figure out which one. So to do that, I google the various artists to see what their work looks like and again I run into the same dilemma – people keep misidentifying their pieces so the whole process is very diluted. I wish there was a more definitive way to pinpoint artists and undilute the whole situation. Thanks so much for your posts and thanks for addressing this particular problem.

    BTW, as soon as I saw your rooster pin, I had the suspicion it was made in Mexico.

    • Thank you happycamper !!
      Glad this hit a good note with you.
      As far as the JJ pin, I’ve seen a lot of the same thing going on. I used to contact sellers, especially when it is blatant. Sometimes I pose as a customer and they continue the misrepresentation. Sometimes I write as an informed visitor to their listing and provide them with factual information they could use to clear up the errors, but in 99% of teh cases, people just are in denial and so desperately want to sell that they ignore or brush off any constructive comments. So I quit, but I sure do know what you mean about it being peeving.
      I chose that rooster pin because it just crowed “MEXICO” when I looked at it, so you can imagine my surprise when I happened upon it in a book ! I thought that would make a unique example.
      Paula

  2. For some reason Im not computer savvy enough to upload a pic…. wondering if you know of a hallmark that is a buffalo skull with a feather hanging from one horn? I have a ring I love with it and can’t seem to find it anywhere. Thanks for any help!

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