When was the STERLING stamp first used on Native American jewelry?

An exact date is not available for when the stamp STERLING was first used on Native American jewelry.

According to the book “Fred Harvey Jewelry 1900-1955” by Dennis June, the STERLING stamp appeared after 1932.

Fred Harvey bookMost Native American made items from the 1930s and before would not have a STERLING stamp nor any artist hallmark for that matter. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to hallmarks – there are always exceptions.

Some items made in the 1940s to 1950s might have the STERLING stamp, most notably, those made by Bell Traders during that time period.

C-ring-harveyera-4

But in general, Native American artists began using the STERLING stamp in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, the STERLING or Sterling or 925 stamps are quite common as are artists’ hallmarks.

 

STERLING stamp

Sterling stamp

Sterling stamp

.925 or 925 indicate that the item is 92.5% silver which is the requirement for something to be called sterling silver.

.925 stamp

.925 stamp

In the vast majority of cases, if a piece of Native American jewelry is stamped with one of the above marks, the item is made from Sterling Silver.

If an item is not stamped with one of the above, this does not necessarily mean the item is not made from sterling silver. Most vintage sterling silver Native American items do not have the STERLING mark.

The only definitive way to know is to perform an acid test.

Paula

Pin Clasps on Native American Jewelry and how they help date the piece

A safety clasp on the back of a pin is the one you are probably most familiar with as it is commonly used today. It is sometimes called a locking pin finding.

1000pcs-25mm-High-quality-Brooch-Locking-Bar-Pin-Back-with-Safety-Latch-Clasp-Back-Pins-for

Safety clasp or locking pin finding. On the left securely locked. On the right, the open position.

Hand made safety clasps appeared on non-Native American jewelry since the 1900s.  The modern safety clasp began being manufactured in the 1930s.

Vintage or antique clasp or hinge3

But it wasn’t until about the mid 1940’s that safety clasps became readily available to Native American silversmiths and started to show up on pins and pin-pendants.

PN430-BC-butterfly-7

1940s – 1950s Navajo butterfly pin showing an early safety clasp

Prior to that time, the simple C clasp was used, which was a curled piece of silver on which to hook the pin – simple. If well made, it would be very secure; if not well made, the pin could bend or otherwise come unfastened.

PN426-OS-turq-1

1930s Navajo pin

PN426-OS-turq-2

Hand made C clasp

PN426-OS-turq-3

Hand made C clasp

Paula

What does INGOT mean in relation to Native American jewelry?

Early Native American jewelry (pre-1930’s) was hand forged from hand made ingots. An ingot is a simply a bar or block of metal. The blocks can be any shape but are traditionally rectangles.

ingots

The metals most commonly used in Native American jewelry are sterling silver or coin silver. You can read about coin silver in a previous post. It should be noted that some vintage ingots are “blends”, that is mostly Mexican coins with a few US coins thrown in OR vice versa. Also beginning the 1930’s the blend could be sterling silver with a few US coins thrown in or any variation thereof. That’s why the exact silver content will vary widely in vintage jewelry.

Silver-Ingots-Coins-02

The beauty of silver is that it can be flattened, stretched, shaped and twisted using hand tools.

hand toolsTo make an ingot, the chosen metal is melted, then poured into block forms.

pouring metal cropped

Once cooled to the perfect working temperature the blocks can be hammered into sheets, wires or other shapes needed for the piece. Silver, sterling silver and coin silver are all malleable, that is they are soft enough to be worked with hand tools – the silver is often reheated in a fire pit or forge several times before the piece is finished.

Jewelry that was hand forged and hand hammered is now rare, collectible and expensive because modern jewelry is no longer hand-hammered from ingots. Rather it is made from machine-rolled sterling silver sheet and wire and pre-made elements like leaves, flowers and buttons.

One way to tell that jewelry has been hand hammered from an ingot is the evidence of folding and layering that is seen on the back side such as here on this early bracelet.

BP256-BC-row-turq-634-4 BP256-BC-row-turq-634-5

Paula