Hallmarks on Mexican Silver Jewelry

A big part of my job is sorting through boxes of jewelry from estate lots or personal collections that come into the store where I work. The boxes are meant to contain only Native American jewelry but often there is southwest style costume jewelry and Mexican jewelry mixed in.

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I set aside the jewelry with Mexican hallmarks and when I get a batch, I research and list it in our Mexican Jewelry section.

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I thought it would be helpful to outline what I have learned about Mexican silver jewelry hallmarks.

First of all, deciphering Mexican hallmarks is an imperfect science. That is, while I will try to provide some guidelines, the system is not black and white, is not accurate. Hallmarks are sometimes used improperly or fraudulently, old hallmarks are mixed with new hallmarks, so in general, the results are often unreliable.

With that said, there is a very good reference book that will give you some help. The Little Book of Mexican Silver Trade and Hallmarks by Bille Hougart.

OK, forging ahead – here are some very general Mexico Silver hallmark guidelines from 1900, which is the age of most of the Mexican silver we get in our store:

During 1900-1948, there was no eagle hallmark. Most pieces were stamped MEXICO and either SILVER or STERLING. They might also have the name of the region such as TAXCO stamped as well as a silver purity such as 925, 950 etc.

From 1948-1980, eagle hallmarks were used to signify sterling content. If there was a an eagle, it was to guarantee the piece was at least of sterling content (.925). The eagle stamp was used with a number to designate origin. For example, 3 for Taxco, 1 for Mexico City (Distrito Federal). Numbers were also assigned to established silver shops.

In 1980, the eagle system was replaced with a Registration Number system. The number stamped on the items consisted of two letters, a dash, and a number.

The first letter represented a place, such as Taxco or another area or city.

The second letter represented the name of the maker, but it could be either the first of last name.

The number after the dash is simply that person’s registration number. Numbers were assigned in order of application for each 2 letter combo.

In recent years the registration system has deteriorated – through lack of enforcement and misuse –  so many makers no longer use it and instead sign their pieces with their own hallmarks – in my opinion, that is as it should be.

Below I am going to show some hallmarks from items that have passed through our store. Using the guidelines above, try to place them in the proper time period. Underneath them I will give my best guess of their age but I welcome input and feedback.

MEXICO SILVER – likely 1900-1948

MEXICO STERLING – likely 1900-1948

S.R. SILVER MADE IN MEXICO – likely 1900-1948

STERLING 925 TAXCO – likely 1900-1948

STERLING TAXCO MEXICO – likely 1900-1948

TAXCO 925 MEXICO DM- likely 1900-1948

TAXCO 925 – likely 1900-1948

Eagle with a 3; STERLING TAXCO MEXICO cCc in center – likely 1948-1980

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Eagle with an illegible number; PLATA 0925 GUAD MEX – likely 1948-1980

925 MEXICO TR-151 The T stands for Taxco; R is for either the first or last name of the maker and 151 means he was the 151st person to register a TR hallmark – likely made after 1980

a hand and HECHO A MANO 925. The hallmark of contemporary artist Manuel Porcayo Figueroa. Contemporary.

Because of the unreliable nature of Mexican stamps, we have found quite a number of items stamped Sterling or 925 do not test positive for sterling silver using a simple acid test. Therefore we test all items in spite of their hallmarks before we list them in our Mexican Shop. We provide all the hallmark information we can discern from each piece even though we are often not able to attribute it to a particular individual.

A side note – another common metal used in Mexican jewelry is alpaca which is an alloy made of nickel, zinc and copper. Often you will see the work ALPACA stamped on such items. But I’ve found that alpaca items are sometimes stamped 925, thus our rigorous testing policy.

Paula

Who made this Petit Point necklace?

This sterling silver and turquoise petit point necklace arrived in an estate collection that had some museum quality, authentic Native American pieces in it. The woman who had owned the collection had a very good eye and had some amazing vintage Native American pieces she collected over the years. So if one judged this necklace by the company it kept, it would be thought to be Zuni or Navajo made. I showed it to some experienced dealers and collectors who thought it was an exceptional piece.  They felt the workmanship was very good.

What do you think?

From the beginning, although it looked very carefully made, it didn’t look Native American to me – it looked like it was made in another country.  So I took a close look……………

Who made this petit point necklace?

Who made this petit point necklace?

There were a few elements that I had never seen in a Zuni or Navajo petit point piece before.

The trapezoid piece above the central medallion was something I had not seen before.......

The trapezoid piece above the central medallion was a shape I had not seen before nor were the attachment loops. The trapezoid reminded me of India, Nepal ……….??

The overall look of the collar wings didn't quite have the Native American look to me........

The overall style of the collar wings didn’t quite have the Native American look to me……..

And while the embellished links above the collar looked nice, again, I had not seen that particular element before............

And while the embellished links above the collar were a beautiful addition, again, I had not seen that particular element before…………

The hand made chain was really nice and did look like some NA made chains I had seen........but wait.........what's that on the end??!!

The hand made chain was really nice and did look like some NA made chains I had seen……..but wait………what’s that on the end??!!

A maker's disc that says 925 (designation of sterling silver) and PHILIPPINES !!!

A maker’s disc that says 925 (designation of sterling silver) and PHILIPPINES !!!

If you were fooled, don’t feel bad. A number of very experienced collectors and dealers had looked at this piece and had not suspected it was an import.

It is very rare for an import to have a tag declaring the country of origin like this. Usually you have to be a super sleuth to spot the items that are imported and presented as Native American made. The fraudsters are getting very good at being bad – they copy designs and hallmarks to a T.

Jewelry made in the Philippines, also called Filipino-Made Jewelry, is a severe detriment to the livelihood of authentic Native American artists. In 2015 there was a federal sting operation that identified sellers who were fraudulently presenting imported jewelry as Native American made. You can read about it by clicking the link below.

Three New Mexicans Charged with Fraudulently Selling Filipino-Made Jewelry as Native American-Made

Keep your eyes and ears open, learn all you can. Buy wisely and enjoy !!

Paula

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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 some sources, the STERLING stamp appeared after 1932.

Most 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