Why is copper used for belt loops, pin backs and more in Native American jewelry?

Copper was the first metal discovered by man and has been used for thousands of years by craftsmen around the world for tools, artifacts and jewelry.

Copper was considered sacred by some Native American cultures and it continued to be used extensively even after the introduction of silver, steel, and metal alloys.

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Vintage copper bracelet with Native American symbols

Copper was abundant in the Southwest, with Arizona having one of the largest copper deposits in the world. In some areas native copper could be found just laying on the ground without the need to smelt it from ore.

Raw Copper

Raw Copper

Copper’s was and is much less expensive than silver.  Unlike steel and most other metals, copper can be easily shaped without heating.

Soldering or “sweating” is joining two pieces of metal together, using a medium called solder (pronounced “sodder”).  The metals that are being joined might be the same such as copper to copper or sterling silver to sterling silver. That type of soldering is relatively simple for an experienced metal smith.

It is when soldering two different metals together that things can get tricky in terms of the amount of heat necessary and the type of solder required.

Examples of dissimilar metal-to-metal soldering common in Native American jewelry is copper to sterling silver and steel to sterling silver.

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper Soldered to Sterling Silver

Copper requires much less heat to solder to sterling silver than it would take to solder steel to sterling silver. Also with copper, there isn’t a specialized solder needed.

That’s why copper is the metal of choice for belt loops on concho belts and is also seen as pin backs, for example, on vintage Native American pins and pin pendants. 

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Copper pin soldered to vintage sterling silver pin

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Sterling silver concho belt with copper belt loops.

Paula

A New Twist on the Horse Whisperer Bracelet !

The Sterling Silver Classic Twist “Horse Whisperer” bracelet is like the one Robert Redford wore in the movie. It is one of the most sought after bracelets in our store so we carry it in many thicknesses and sizes for men and women.  We are often sold out and unable to get more in sterling silver. And with the rise in silver prices, the larger sizes can get quite pricey as they are based on weight of sterling silver used.

five sixteenths classic twist bracelet

So we were thrilled when Benny Tahe made us identical twins in copper !! Ever since they have come into the store, I have been wearing one and just can take my eyes off it. What a gorgeous glow !

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And at 1/8 the price of the sterling version, what’s not to love?? So I’m thinking copper for the barn and sterling silver for town.

Cloud and Rain Hallmark on Copper Bracelet

Hi Paula,

I have a wide heavy stamped copper bracelet which has a spring tension closure.  The symbol inside is a cloud with lines of rain falling.  Do you have an idea of who the maker might  be? 

Thank you!  Delilah

Hi Delilah,

What a unique and beautiful bracelet.

The figure seems to have characteristics of a YeiBiChi , a figure that is part of the Navajo story and appears on Navajo jewelry.

I’ve seen similar hallmarks. Three clouds with rain falling is a fairly common component of both Navajo and Hopi hallmarks. The hallmark in your photo is not complete so it does make it a little difficult to compare to similar 3-cloud and rain hallmarks, but, even so, I have not seen one quite like the one on your bracelet.

I researched:

Navajo hallmarks

Hopi hallmarks

Navajo shop marks

Hopi Guild marks

and I have come up with nothing that matches the one on your bracelet.

So I am hoping by posting this, someone else might recognize it and leave a comment at the end of this post.

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Copper Jewelry – Characteristics, Care, Reaction with Skin and Health Benefits

Copper Characteristics

Copper is a pure elemental metal, CU on the periodic table. It is reddish brown and is soft enough so that it is malleable which means you can shape and bend it fairly easily.

Copper oxidizes and darkens when it comes in contact with the air in the environment. It tends to get to a certain dark color but then it doesn’t get any darker.

If you’ve ever seen copper roofs that have turned green, that is what is called copper patina. The copper has reacted with the environment and rain, especially if it is acidic rain.

The same sort of thing can happen when copper comes in contact with your skin if your skin is acidic. The acids in your skin combine with copper and make copper salts which are green. They are harmless and can simply be washed off.

Copper Care

Copper develops a patina, much like sterling silver, but faster and darker, especially in the presence of heat, sunlight, sweat, swimming pools and chlorine water, chemicals and cosmetics. Remove copper jewelry before bathing, swimming, doing dishes, putting on lotion or makeup.

Some people love the deep rich look of vintage copper while others like the bright shiny bronze look of clean copper.

Storage
Keep cooper in a cool, dry place. If possible, store in an anti-tarnish pouch, box or cloth. If you have none of these, use a tightly sealing plastic bag to keep air from contacting the copper items. Adding a strip of anti-tarnish paper can also slow down tarnish.

Cleaning
Effective cleaning products for copper are highly acidic. Here are some methods for cleaning a solid copper item with no stones or gems.

Lemon Juice

  • Lay a cloth on your kitchen counter, one that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • Place your copper item in a glass or ceramic bowl on the cloth.
  • Squirt lemon juice over the item.
  • Move the item in the liquid so that all surfaces have a chance to react with the lemon juice.
  • Use a toothbrush to scrub the lemon juice in the crevices.
  • Rinse.
  • Wash with warm water and soap, using your toothbrush again if necessary.
  • Dry

Salt and Vinegar Soak

  • Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 cup of vinegar to 2 quarts of boiling water.
  • Remove the pot from the heat.
  • Dip the copper item in the liquid, rinse and dry.

Lemon Juice Salt Paste

  • Mix lemon juice and salt together until you have a paste which you can use for deep cleaning.
  • Apply with a cloth or toothbrush as appropriate.
  • Rinse
  • Dry

To make a paste that you can apply and leave on an item for a deeper cleanse, you can make a thicker paste by adding some flour to the above lemon-salt paste.

Ketchup and Worcestershire sauce have been noted to be excellent copper cleaners but more expensive than the home preparations above.

To maintain the shine, you can buff a copper piece with an anti-tarnish cloth.

Reaction between copper and your skin

If you have ever had a copper bracelet that started to turn green or even turn your skin green, you might have been turned off by copper.

The green color results from an individual’s body chemistry at a particular time. Two people can wear the same bracelet and one person’s wrist will turn green and the other’s will not. A person can wear a copper bracelet one day with no green marks and the next day green marks might appear.

What does the green tell you? The green color means that your skin has become more acidic and has dissolved copper from the bracelet faster than the body can absorb it. This usually happens when we sweat, when we are stressed, when we experience dietary changes, mainly a poor diet (think junk food).
Green marks might also appear when the body is deficient in copper so is trying to obtain it a rate faster than it can absorb.

When the body is in a state of homeostasis, the copper is absorbed through the skin at the same rate it is dissolved from the bracelet so there are no green marks.

Some makers of copper jewelry, put a coating (sealer) on the copper item to preserve it and prevent the copper from interacting with the wearer’s skin. But then, the purported health benefits of wearing copper would not be achieved.

Is there a health benefit to wearing copper?

There are many who swear by the health benefits of wearing copper (copper bracelet manufacturers) while others have the opposite viewpoint.

Most everyone agrees that wearing copper jewelry does no harm.

Proponents of the benefits say copper does some or all of the following and more:

  • Provide necessary copper by absorption through the skin.
  • Relive arthritis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome pain etc.
  • Clear the body of toxins.
  • Aid in healing.

To decide for yourself, here are some interesting articles on copper:

Copper and Your Health from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Beneficial Therapeutic Effect of Copper Bracelets – Life Extension

Medical View of Effectiveness of Copper Bracelets – Creighton University

Health Benefits of Copper Bracelets – eHow Health

Medicinal Effects of Copper Bracelets – Scientia Press

Visit our Copper Shop to find all kinds of vintage copper treasures !

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Bell Trading Post History and Hallmarks

Bell Trading Post was founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1932 by Jack Michelson and his wife Mildred. They sold southwest style jewelry at various tourist locations in the United States.

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Bell Trading Post got its name from Jack’s wife, whose maiden name was Bell.

The types of jewelry sold by Bell Trading Post included sterling silver, nickel silver, gold, and copper.

To see a selection of  Bell Trading Post jewelry, visit our Copper Shop.   Here are some examples:

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Their main competitor was The Maisel Company until Maisel’s closed in 1968.

In 1969, Sunbell Corporation was formed and included these merchandise lines: Bell Jewelry (which now carried the Sunbell hallmark), Gregorian Copper Ware, and Oglala Lakota moccasins from Pine Ridge South Dakota. Sunbell also purchased Maisel’s inventory.

Sunbell Corporation

Sunbell Corporation catalog

Gregorian Copper Ware

Gregorian Copper Ware catalog

 

Pine Ridge moccasins

catalog page showing the Pine Ridge moccasins

Sunbell continued to offer jewelry items, now with the Sunbell hallmark,  as well as giftware and moccasins until the late 1980s. 

Over the years numerous hallmarks were used on items sold by Bell Trading Post and Sunbell. The hallmarks typically included the image of a bell or that of an arrow sign post with a bell sign hanging from it. Shown here are just a few of Bell Trading Post’s hallmarks.

According to a reader who researched the trademark records, the mark “Bell Jewelry”  was first used in 1935.

The “Arrow post hanging bell sign” was first used in 1961.

Bell Trading Company hallmark   Bell Trading Company hallmark   Bell Trading Company hallmark  Bell Trading Company hallmark

Bell Trading Company hallmark     Bell Trading Company hallmark   Bell Trading Company hallmark

When the name changed to Sunbell, this is the hallmark often used.

sunbell cropped

February 2019

I originally wrote this article in 2011 but just updated it after receiving a note from Jacquelyn Michelson: “As the Daughter of Jack and Mildred Michelson you are incorrect in your facts about the Bell Trading Post. It was never called Bell Trading Company and Bell never merged with The Maisel Company in 1935. They remained fierce competitors until the 70’s when Sunbell Corporation bought the Maisel Company. Please correct your facts. Thank you”.

So I thanked Jacquelyn for taking the time to write and I have corrected the errors in my article and added more information and photos courtesy of Jacquelyn. I’m so glad she wrote, how else would I have known !!

I now want to share with you some references that I had used originally and that I dug out again today as I rewrote this article. I am including them all so you can review the information and draw your own conclusions. As is often the case, things aren’t always black and white.

An article online entitled Bell Trading Post, Albuquerque, NM (1932 -1969)

Although that article seems to provide some good information, Jacquelyn Michelson did point out there are a few errors, in particular this sentence:

“Then in 1957 Jack Michelson pasted away4 leaving the company to his two sons, Jack and Douglas.”

Well not only should that have said passed away, not pasted away, it should have said:

Then in 1957 Jack Michelson passed, leaving the company to his two sons, Jack and Douglas and his daughter Jacquelyn who was a proud and active part of the business. It was Jacquelyn who came up with the name Sunbell and the logo when Sunbell became a corporation.

 

 

An excellent book Reassessing Hallmarks of Native Southwest Jewelry by Pat and Kim Messier.  I’m showing one excerpt here but there are other discussions on this topic and much more !

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Mssier excerpt

In the book Fred Harvey Jewelry, there is a timeline that states Maisel’s and Bell merged in 1935 which Jacquelyn Michelson says did not happen.

The author of the above book referenced the following book as the source for the merger information. Here is the book cover and the page referenced.

Finally, this is another reference with much about Bell Trading Post, Maisel’s and more.

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