According to Warman’s Antique Jewelry, screw back earrings date from 1909 and although still used, they are not common on new pieces.
According to Warman’s Antique Jewelry, screw back earrings date from 1909 and although still used, they are not common on new pieces.
Recently we received this beautiful pair of vintage hair combs in an estate lot that were made by a Navajo silversmith at Woodard’s Indian Shop
[Marion (M.L.) Woodard worked for the United Indian Traders Association (UITA) in the 1930s and also operated shops in Tucson, Scottsdale, Santa Fe and Gallup. Some of the noted artists that worked for Woodard’s include Navajo silversmiths Kee Joe Benally, Wilson Tsosie, Joe D. Yazzie, and Willie Yazzie Sr. – from Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks by Bille Hougart:]
Probably from the 1950s. I found a very interesting oral history that I thought you might like to read. It was posted on http://library.nau.edu/
This is Karen Underhill with Northern Arizona University. It is Monday, December 14, 1998, and we're here with Tom Woodard for an interview about his life and association with Indian traders over the years. Also in the room are Brad Cole and Lew Steiger.
|Woodard: I was born in Gallup in 1936.
Underhill: And who were your parents?
Woodard: M. L. Woodard and Ann Woodard. My dad, I guess, got to Gallup about in the mid to late twenties. When he first was over there, he had a newspaper called Southwest Tourist News. And then, I think, in the early thirties, 1930 on, he went to work for the Chamber of Commerce and the Ceremonial Association and the United Indian Traders Association and the Highway 66 Association. He was in those jobs, I believe, until–I think some of them he left about 1948. And then I think he resigned as director of the Traders in 1950. I have a copy of his resignation for the dates. I know they tried to get him to stay on, but he had opened a store there in Gallup at the same time, so he was just too busy to handle all of it.
Underhill: What sort of store did he open?
Woodard: Indian arts and crafts. Of course he had worked along with the traders for many, many years, but was never actually in the trading business himself, until he opened that store in the late forties. He did run the–during the war the Indian Traders Association got silver released to the Navajo people, because the older Navajos were of no use to the military in any way, because of their language barrier…. So in order for them to make a living, the traders got the silver released, and it was the only precious metal released during wartime for jewelry production. And it really created a boom period for many of the silversmiths who were left here in the area, and older people. That was a period when some of the–I heard that Marshall Fields came out, sent a buyer out from Chicago, had a check for $50,000, and he just wanted sterling silver. And this was the only place that anyone could get it. Of course that was a lot of money in those days–not that it’s not today, but it was a lot more then. It really did not help the quality of the craft in that they wanted something made out of a precious metal, they did not care what it looked like. Most of the traders were used to an entirely different type of jewelry–there was more work went into it, and a sense of design and creativity and that was very important, where at that point in time it really wasn’t.
My dad actually ran that place, and then he had a fellah that helped him. After the war, the traders did not see any reason to continue in the silver business, because so many other people could get in it, and they sold the silver business that they had. And at that time, I think my dad had ’em put the money they got from that, in AT&T stock. And that’s why we’re all sitting here today! (laughter)
Underhill: Well, if we could back up just a little: why and when was the United Indian Traders Association founded? Your dad went to work as executive director.
Woodard: Before I was here! (laughs) It was founded in the early thirties, and it is my understanding, and of course I probably ran over most of these early traders with my tricycle or something like that. I got to know a number of them before I was really thoroughly interested in the Indian field. I mean, I just grew up in Gallup and had a lot of very good Indian friends, but as far as the trading business, I didn’t really even think a whole lot about it.
But it is my understanding that the reason for the Traders Association had a lot to do with government controls and government interference. In the earlier days you had the BIA–Bureau of Indian Affairs–and some of these various Washington people that needed a Southwest vacation, I guess, and they came out to “save the Indians” and the traders were takin’ advantage of ’em–which is not a true story at all. Time after time, they [the traders] had to prove that they were really taking care of these people….
In that article I gave you that Tom Kirk did, just a minute ago, he discusses one situation there where the traders would pay fifty cents an ounce for silver, and they would pay the Indian fifty cents an ounce to make it up. Then they would sell it for a dollar an ounce. Well, where’s their profit? Well, they decided that their profit was in their trade, because the Indians traded the fifty cents labor deal there for groceries and things of that nature, or maybe interest on pawn or something like that. The profit was built in elsewhere.
Now today, you make profit on each one of ’em. (chuckles) The whole accounting system was considerably different in those days.
Underhill: And if you had to generalize, what characteristics do traders have in common?
Woodard: Well, when you go to, like, Harry and Mike Goulding, up in Monument Valley, which is really very remote and away from everything–not so much today as it was then–but it was I think at least a week-long trip from anywhere where there was any other type of civilization, and they would go out there by wagon. They would have to freight in everything that they traded with the Indians. And of course they moved out there as a young married couple, and they died out there. And no way would they leave. They had sold, or I believe they gave the property to a church back east, which the church sold to some individuals later, and Mrs.Goulding moved back out there and finally passed away there. But most of them have pretty much gotten to really like that life, and you’re with people of an entirely different culture, and a very interesting people. Their values are so much different than you see with a lot of other people. But most of these early people just loved what they were doing, and they wouldn’t leave it for anything, and many of them just died there where they had worked. And many of them, who, say, worked for traders, people who worked as employees for the people who owned the post, they would go from post to post and work as they would change hands and so forth, would go to different places.
But what does a shoe salesman talk about when he gets home from work? I can tell you that we all talk about trading, even after we get off work. And we’ve done it many a time ’til the wee hours of the morning. Just some of the stories, it’s really different, it’s a frontier-type life. I think that you have to say that many of these earlier traders were really pioneers of the West, more than they get credit for.
It’s not a story–well, this would be a true story. I appraised Mrs. Goulding’s estate, and I was like a kid in a candy store, because she had kept guest books for many of the years that they were out there. There were quite a number of movies, and here a few years back, there wasn’t one of those peaks at Monument Valley that didn’t have a brand new car on it. Now there’s no way you could get the car on. A little trick photography there. But the people who have been in that remote area–which is still not on any beaten path–but the names of the people who have been there, the artists, the movie stars, the politicians–like Teddy Roosevelt was very well-known by a number of the traders out in this area. When you get into some of the history there, you get into a lot more of those stories.
I met a fellah who was quite well-known, years ago at a funeral. I have thought very highly of the individual and have had contact with him since that date. His name was Johnny Cash. He appeared at a funeral of a young Navajo girl who was killed in a car accident. Her husband was an artist and he was in art school back in Chicago and they went to a concert–the Indian people all like western music–and while sitting there, he did kind of a pencil sketch of Johnny Cash, and they knew there was no way you could get to him after the concert, so his wife took the sketch and gave it to one of the security people back there and said, “Just give this to Mr. Cash. We’re not tryin’ to get in and see him or anything.” But she had written their phone number and address on there. A couple of days later they got a phone call from Johnny Cash. It resulted in Johnny Cash bought a lot of his paintings, and used a couple of his paintings for album covers. And this happened to be at Crownpoint, which you just don’t expect to see someone of that….
But he came to that funeral as a mourner and as a very sincere person. It really, really impressed me a great deal.
I think I’d rather do business with Indian people than with Anglo people anytime. They really study what they want. And of course we were in the jewelry and rug business, and pottery and that type of thing. But just like when you need a plumber, not everybody’s a plumber. So you call a plumber. Well, not every Indian is a silversmith, so they go to a jewelry store and buy their material, or the things that they’d like.
We did handle some religious items. The peyote religion got to be very major among the people out here. It had been very popular in Oklahoma, and that’s the Native Church of North America, which is an incorporated church. And it really caught on with the Navajos. It just mushroomed over there. Many of the people who were in that religion were the tribal officials, were the best family people, took good care of their families. Of course that religion did not believe in drinking at all, which has always been a problem with the Indian people. And not just Indian people, with a lot of other people too.
Gallup, of course, has had the bad name of all the drunk Indians in Gallup, which it does not deserve that. There is a Skid Row section of Every City USA, and if the highway happens to go through there, that’s what they’re gonna say about it, and that’s where Gallup’s problem is. You get the truckers that were going through there on Front Street, and that happened to be where the Indian bars were located….
Underhill: How integrated was Gallup?
Woodard: Actually, Gallup got its name from a railroad paymaster, George S. Gallup. And of course the early days of Gallup–Gallup was a coal-mining town. There is probably, I think they have maps of over 300 miles of underground coal mines, going underneath Gallup, and as a kid I played in a lot of ’em. Not real safe, but many of those they’ve tried to close off and all that. But there was some major coal mining going on there. And the coal miners, there were a lot of Slavic people. With the railroad there they had some Oriental people who worked on the railroads. The makeup of Gallup was probably as diverse of any area that I’ve ever been in my life. And everybody just got along together. There was never any problems. Growing up I never saw any of the racial problems that I got to know about in later years. The Indian people, I’ve got a lot of very close Indian friends, and still to this day quite a few Indian guests here all the time–and even some of the old traders, too! (chuckles)
But I feel very bad that I wasn’t born, say, thirty years before I was; just as you feel that you wished you’d have started this [project] thirty years before you started it. (Underhill agrees) But I was fortunate to have been so close to it, and some of it rubbed off. I wish I would have become more interested much sooner than I did. And it’s kind of like a kid that just found his candy store, after I really got into it, and I’ve really enjoyed it ever since.
Underhill: And what got you started in the arts and crafts business?
Woodard: Well, the rodeo business wasn’t really doin’ real well, and I was getting out of college and getting married and I thought that I might better find some source of income. And so at that time I did open an arts and crafts store in Tucson.
Underhill: What do you think caused the interest in the 1970s in Indian arts and crafts–the boom?
Woodard: That’s easy! That was a Revlon ad. There was a gal wearin’ a concho belt. We sold to the Department of Interior shop in Washington, and American Indian Art Center in New York. Those were accounts that we had. And this Vogue magazine came out, and there was a gal wearin’ a squash blossom necklace, another wearin’ a concho belt. And I bet there hadn’t been two squash blossom necklaces sold in New York in the preceding ten years. But they ordered ten of them. We asked them if they were sober and sure. “What are you gonna do with ten squash blossom necklaces in New York?!” And before they got them, they had ordered some, like ten to twenty more. It just started and it really mushroomed. I mean, that’s what I kind of attribute it to. It was some national publicity. It had absolutely nothing to do with Indian jewelry. They were selling cosmetics, but it was just a fashion statement.
Pretty soon it just went wild. It was way over what we in the business could control. There was just no way. And I refused to take on new accounts, because I felt obligated to the people who had purchased from us for a number of years before. And then, of course (chuckles) right after that, every one of these people sold their stores to one of these other guys. Well, you never knew that was gonna happen. And I don’t regret doing it the way that I did it. We still kept a good reputation and had good quality merchandise all the time, which is more of the angle that we were….
And we worked very close with the Ceremonial, as did many of the traders and the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, the Hopi Guild, any other organizations in the area–everybody is–and from all over the United States, too.
Underhill: If there were anything that you could go back and change throughout your career or life, would you do that? What would it be?
Woodard: Well, I’d build a fence around New Mexico and the reservation and all that to keep it the same as it used to be (laughter) when it was really enjoyable. No, I’ve really enjoyed my whole life, and I don’t know that I could say I’d want to see anything change, other than to have what’s going on now [imitations in the Indian jewelry business] out of it, and not have to worry about things like that, and go back to the real thing.
I was visiting with Lige Blair when this fellah reestablished Toadlena Trading Post here a couple of years ago. And Lige, of course that was the first place that he was when he came out here, and I’ve known Lige, oh, for a number of years. When I was learning to fly, this Joe Danhoff taught me how to fly. He was always interested in flying and all. Of course he also was a trader out on the reservation, which many of them–Blair flies also. It’s just really the best way in the world to get in and out of there. So I’d go out to Joe to his trading post and learn to land on all the roads.
And Lige Blair’s place, we were out there one time and learned how to take off goin’ around a curve over a bridge! Well, that’s all three all rolled up into one, and that was kinda new then, and that was very exciting. But that wouldn’t bother me now. And then Hopi, there’s an airport there at Oraibi, but that’s the dumbest place in the world to land. That great big wide highway up there by the cultural center- that’s where you’re goin’ anyway-that’s the place to land, but a couple of Hopis started learnin’ to fly, and they were both landing, but going a different direction, so they kind of stopped that. (chuckles) It kind of ended our little airstrip there. But that road’s gotta be nine miles long and just as wide as it can be. And the airport down there, you’re always [dealing with] real tricky winds and a wash right at the end of it.
But over the years a lot of the traders have been pilots. Both the LaFont [phonetic spelling] boys fly a lot. Oh, there’ve been a number of them.
Cole: I was curious: You mentioned a couple of times the events, what’s happening at Zuni. What is happening?
Woodard: Well, when the Arabs first came out here–in fact, it was…. I’ve forgotten what his first name was, but their father is a wholesale grocer in Denver. Well, he was the first one to come down here, and they–it was in the early seventies–and they must have caught on that there was something really happening on this jewelry thing, and they came down and they just started–a whole bunch of ’em started comin’, and they essentially built a fence around Zuni. They would stand on the roads there, and they wouldn’t allow the Zuni to carry any jewelry out of there. They were in there workin’ with briefcases full of hundred-dollar bills, and apparently no record keeping of any kind. I don’t know why the IRS hasn’t gotten involved, because everybody knows that their transactions are very questionable. Well, they would pay ’em a little more than we were payin’ ’em, so that was the original enticement. And then they just got it, and then they cut ’em back after they had pretty well got control over it….
And of course I gotta say that Wal-Mart and all those big grocery stores and Thriftway are messin’ up the other end of the trading business. (all chuckle)
I mean, it’s not the same, but I am very happy to have lived in that time and gotten to know some of those people and seen that way of life. I feel very fortunate to…. I just wished I would have taken the bait or caught the bait long before I did, because I really missed out on a whole lot that I could have….
It’s been a very interesting life to me. And I have just started learning. I don’t know it yet. An expert’s somebody’s that been in this for less than two weeks. Then you find out how much you don’t know, and you get quieter and quieter as the years go by, because you realize how much you don’t know. But it’s really been fun for me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It tests positive for sterling silver. The clasp is a standard ring safety clasp that has been available since about the 1940s.
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.
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.
The back of the pin clearly shows signs that it is a cast piece.
With minimal cleaning, you can “read the fine print” it says “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.
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.
Here is another one of those mystery pieces that came in a 100+ piece estate lot. Most of the items in this gentleman’s collection (he collected for over 60 years) have strong provenance and/or hallmarks.
So I am going to give this a good examination. First I will post photos of the item I am examining, then I’ll follow with the reference material I dug up on these large mosaic shell pendants.
The entire necklace weights 252 grams
The necklace is 24 inches long and made of very nice turquoise nuggets that are strung on a metal wire. I am of the opinion that this is a married piece, that is, the more contemporary necklace was added or substituted later. Perhaps if this shell pendant originally came with a traditional heishi necklace and the pendant was attached to it with fiber or thread (as was done and you will see below in the reference section), the necklace or attachment might have broken and this was what the owner did to make it work.
The shell pendant is is 5 1/2″ wide and 5″ tall. The shell is relatively flat.
It is attached to the necklace by sterling silver wire. This might be a more recent evolution of the necklace ( see my comment above about married piece.) You can see where there were several attempts to drill a hole on the left to find one where the pendant balanced correctly. Remember this when we later look at one of the research pieces.
The inside of the shell is mostly white with faint hints of peach. It is of the shape and size of a large spiny oyster shell.
Here are some closeups of the inlay. Note the black material between the turquoise pieces. The white mosaic pieces appear to be Mother of Pearl but I am not sure if the black is Acoma Jet, old phonograph records or other substitute material. The reddish brown tiles are pipestone, a material that was noted to be used in the Santo Domingo pueblo (Baxter Encyclopedia page 156).
NOW I AM SHIFTING GEARS TO THE RESEARCH MATERIAL………..HERE’S WHAT I FOUND
Shell pendants are some of the earliest jewelry found in archaeological sites in Arizona. The Hohokam, Salado, and Sinagua peoples obtained the shells by trade or travel. The shells are native to the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Coast.
Prehistoric people used lac or pine pitch to adhere the mosaic to the shell.
lac – a resinous substance secreted as a protective covering by the lac insect, used to make varnish, shellac, sealing wax, dyes, etc.
Pine resin is a clear sticky substance secreted by damaged limbs or roots of pine trees. The resin can be used as is or made into a more useful pine pitch or pine tar which is black.
This tradition of mosaic inlay on shells is associated with Santo Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo of New Mexico.
From the Encyclopedia of Native American Jewelry (Paula Baxter) “Between 1920 and 1950, not all Santo Domingo jewelry making was of good quality and pieces from this period betray inventive uses of substitute materials – especially when the traditional materials were not available (such as using pieces of phonograph records or automotive battery cases in place of jet or onyx).”
The contemporary revival of the art form is mainly due to Angie Reano Owen. Santo Domingo artists Mary Coriz Lovato and Jolene Bird also makes mosaic inlay on large shells.
Today the main difference is that black epoxy glue is now used instead of pine pitch.
This is a married piece.
The necklace is more contemporary and was added later, attaching the pendant to the necklace with sterling silver wire.
The shell pendant shows the following positive signs for it being a vintage Native American made piece:
It is based on the proper size and shape shell.
The adhesive between the turquoise is black which is traditional, whether pitch or glue.
Pipestone and Mother of Pearl are associated with Santo Domingo work. It is possible the color of the base spiny oyster shell was faded or off color, so the artist decided to add the pipestone mosaic to brighten up the piece.
The black material is unidentified at this point – it could be jet or an old record or car battery.
What do you think? Please leave comments and additional reference information below.
This post is designed to describe the process I go through when I am trying to authenticate whether an item is Native American made or not.
Here is a very pretty necklace that may or may not be Native American made. In this particular case, I’m going to say guilty until proven innocent, in other words, not Native American made unless I can find some solid proof that it is.
But coming to a verdict is harder than one might think because there are far fewer definitive references for Santo Domingo, Kewa and Pueblo stone necklaces than there are for silver and stone jewelry.
Add to that, the fact that very few stone necklaces have hallmarks of any kind. And finally, tab necklaces are much more uncommon than other Native American jewelry. In fact, this is the first of its kind to arrive here.
First of all, what it it? It is a Tab Necklace – the three inlaid pendants suspended from the heishi choker put it in the Tab Necklace category.
The very finely turned and graduated heishi is made from brown shell which varies from a deep amber, dark honey to a very dark brown. It reminds me of tortoise shell in its variegation. The only piece I have for reference that I KNOW is tortoise shell is my beloved Chester Mahooty bracelet shown here.
The heishi is very smooth and expertly produced. Heishi is made by stringing shell or stone, then grinding, sanding and polishing it into smooth edged circles. Each of the heishi discs in this choker are only 1mm thick. The graduation is very well done.
This choker is strung on string and finished off with sterling silver cones and a hook and eye fastener. The fastener seems hand made. There is sunburst stamping on the cones.
Now to the tabs. The base is made of a very dark wood. It is possibly iron wood or cocobolo wood which some Navajo artists use in conjunction with their inlay work.
The inlay on the tabs of my necklace is made with some very interesting turquoise with matrix and a white material that has the hardness of stone. There are no visible pores in the white material and, because of its density, it has been polished to a very smooth surface. It could be ivory, alabaster, stone composite ??
The channels between the turquoise and cream pieces are baffling since they have a distinct gold cast to them. They could be brass, jeweler’s gold or some variation.
Each tab has a thinner channel of metal at the bottom position. On the middle tab, that thin channel almost looks like is has leaked something which could be a metal residue or a metallic colored resin or adhesive.
As far as age, this necklace was probably made at least 15 years ago and it could be much older.
I’m including information on early tab necklaces for historical interest, not to suggest the choker I am researching is one.
Depression era tab necklaces (made beginning in the 1930’s up to the 1960’s) were constructed from various discarded materials such as 78 rpm records, car battery cases, red plastic dinnerware and Dairy Queen spoons.
The backing for the inlay on vintage tab necklaces was usually black – from records or car batteries.
The heishi used was usually quite thick and made from white clam shell.
Most of the examples I have been able to find are necklace length, approximately 26-30″.
The ends were finished off with either a squaw wrap or with cones and hook and eye closures.
I love it. It is beautiful.
Who made it? I don’t know.
Is it Native American made? Possibly but not likely……………here are the Pros and Cons:
Pros – String, cones and clasp, very fine heishi work, nice turquoise.
Cons – Wood backing for the inlay, undetermined material in the channels of the inlay.
If you have comments please leave them at the bottom of this post.
Be sure to read all of the comments as they come in because that is part of the process of learning about these pieces.
Bottom line. Although this is most probably an imported choker from the 1970’s, it is very well made, pretty and looks great on. So even though not a Native American made necklace, it still is a nice vintage item. It is what it is.
“The Navajo were the first Southwest American Indians to work silver……A man named Astidi Sani (Old Smith) is credited by historians as being the fist Navajo silversmith. His Spanish name was Herrero Delgadito (Little Ironworker). Reportedly he acquired a basic knowledge of ironworking in 1853 from a Mexican blacksmith/silversmith.”
From Indian Jewelry, Fact & Fantasy by Marsha Land
Early Navajo metalwork was limited to iron and was for utilitarian purposes (knife blades, bits), not adornment.
Mexican Silversmiths (plateros), on the other hand, were typically adorned with silver as a display of their wealth and, for some, their metal-working skills – silver concha belts, buckles, buttons on shirts and down the sides of pants, hat bands, silver embellished saddles and headstalls and much more.
This side view of a pair of vintage Mexican charro pants (circa 1890) give you an idea of the lavish silver embellishments. An example of an ornate vintage Mexican silver saddle.
John Lawrence Hubbell opened his first trading post at Ganado, Arizona in 1873. When the well-dressed nomadic plateros came to the Ganado area, the Navajo took notice. Soon they began to trade horses and livestock to the plateros in exchange for learning metal-working skills.
Hubbell saw the potential in of Navajo silverwork for his trading post so he brought in two Mexican silversmiths (Thick Lips and Benedito) to teach their skills to the Navajo he had working for him.
From Navajo Silver, a brief history of Navajo Silversmithing
The dictionary mentioned in the following quote was published in 1910.
For a much more detailed account of Atsidi Sani AKA Herrero, as well as how Navajo smiths learned silver casting methods from plateros and much more………. read John Adair’s book:
Metal-working skills were passed from the Spaniards to the Mexicans and then to the Navajo. Interestingly, early Navajo silversmiths chose to use leather stamping tools for their designs, thus distinguishing Navajo pieces from Mexican silver work early on.
Watch for more on this topic in a future post.
Fred Harvey (1835-1901) and the phrase “Fred Harvey era” are often misunderstood and misused when it comes to describing early Native American style jewelry.
Fred Harvey lived during fascinating times and his story tells us much about US transportation, westward travel, railway restaurant cars and the early tourist trade. But what is curious about his legacy is that we Native American jewelry aficionados erroneously use his name to describe a particular type of Native American style tourist jewelry that he personally did not have much to do with and that actually exploded onto the scene after his death.
Instead of referring to the the tourist jewelry from the era as “Fred Harvey jewelry”, it has been suggested that “railroad jewelry” would have been more appropriate. But that’s water over the bridge.
Is Fred Harvey responsible for the introduction of Americans to America? Yes.
Is he responsible for the first Native American jewelry boom in the US? Well, yes and no. But that’s putting the caboose before the engine. To understand the man, the era, and the jewelry, first of all a very brief timeline:
1835 Fred Harvey was born in London, England
1850 Fred Harvey, age 15, sailed to America, his first job was a dishwasher in NYC. He became a US citizen in 1858
1876 Fred Harvey entered into a handshake agreement with restaurant operator Peter Cline who ran the eatery at the Topeka, Kansas railway depot to transform the lunchroom to better serve train passengers. After a radical makeover, he offered a 35 cent breakfast which included steak, eggs, hash browns, six wheat pancakes with maple syrup, apple pie and coffee all served in a clean and pleasant atmosphere.
1878 Fred Harvey signed a contract with the Santa Fe Railway (also known as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe or AT&SF) to operate small restaurants (called tea rooms) at railroad depots along the railroad’s route.
1880 and onward trading post owners (called traders) began carrying tools and supplies for the Native American production of spoons, buttons, squash blossom necklaces, and other jewelry items.
1885 Fred Harvey managed 17 lunchrooms, called Harvey Houses, along Santa Fe’s line. They were run by Harvey Girls, single, young waitresses in starched uniforms.
1888 Fred Harvey begins to operate dining cars on the Santa Fe Railway. He signed his last contract with the Santa Fe Railroad in 1899. Here is a sample menu from one of the Harvey dining cars.
1899 Fred Harvey Company (notably Indian Jewelry manager Herman Schweizer) supplied pre-cut turquoise and pre-measured silver pieces to traders for the manufacture of lightweight jewelry (aka railroad jewelry) to satisfy the demand of the railroad tourist trade.
1901 Fred Harvey died at age 65. His son, Ford Harvey assumed control of the Fred Harvey Company
1909 The Thunderbird design was copyrighted by Fred Harvey Co.
1920 Fred Harvey Co. is the principal concessionaire in the newly established Grand Canyon National Park.
1923 Maisel’s Indian Trading Post opens in Albuquerque offering coin silver jewelry
1932 Bell Trading Co began operation
1935 Maisel’s merges with Bell Trading Co. and Bell converts to machine manufacturing remaining in business until 1972
Fred Harvey’s main goal as an entrepreneur was to provide good food and good service for railroad travelers. He was immensely successful at that and essentially developed America’s first chain restaurants – Harvey House.
So what does he have to do with the railroad jewelry? He created the market and the place to sell the wares. By making travelers comfortable, well fed and happy, they were ready to purchase souvenirs as mementos of their travels. The lightweight tourist jewelry was sold in the depot hotels and restaurants and alongside the train tracks.
Some of the most popular items were bracelets, pins, spoons, all heavily laden with symbols.
The meanings for these symbols, in a large part, did not come from the Native Americans but were made up by the marketers of the jewelry such as Herman Schweizer of the Fred Harvey Company. He is attributed to say that the very popular Thunderbird symbol was (see the Harvey chart below) the “sacred bearer of happiness unlimited.” That sounds good, I’ll take two.
One of the most popular tourist pieces was the split shank Pretty Girl bracelet.
The peak of the Fred Harvey era tourist-quality Native American style jewelry was from 1900-1930, the decline caused mainly by the closure of the railroad depot lunchrooms and shops. Even so, it continued to be produced until the mid 1940s or 1950s. The Bell Trading Co. continued on until the 1970s.
The authentic, sometimes called ethnographic, Native American jewelry was made before and during the tourist era and continues to be made today. Using heavier silver and stones, authentic Native American jewelry speaks volumes about its heritage and makers.
Fact or Fiction?
The Fred Harvey Company produced Indian jewelry. FALSE
All “Fred Harvey era” southwest jewelry was Indian made. FALSE
Some tourist jewelry is Indian made. TRUE