Paula..many years ago we aquired a silver box from an inheritance. It has what I’ve come to discover…a knife wing inlay on the top…the box is solid silver and measures approx 7 x 5 x 3….Can you give me any history on this? I see on your website that you have a very similar but smaller one so I thought maybe you could shed some light on this for me. Marsha
Well, it is always difficult to determine anything from photos, especially if there are no hallmarks.
Knifewing is depicted in a number of styles but below is one of the most common Navajo inlay designs (the box from our store).
I couldn’t say much about your box except that it seems to have large repousse areas in the lid. Repousse is a silversmith technique to create raised shapes by hammering from the underside. I’ve never seen that type of repousse design on Native American pieces, however.
I’m not sure if the photos are throwing me off but the top view makes the metal look more like tin than sterling silver, but since you just said silver, perhaps you are just referring to a silver color and you haven’t had it tested for sterling.
If it is sterling silver, of course, it would be worth more than if it was not, no matter if it is Native American made or not.
I keep having this nagging feeling, though, that it might not even be Native American made……..of course if I had it in hand, it would be easier to tell. But here are some issues that concern me. One is the “feet” which seem to be solid balls of metal, something I would associate more with a non NA box. The Native American boxes I have seen either have no feet or feet like on the box in our shop.
Have the box tested to see if it is sterling silver.
Think about the person from whom you inherited the box from……..would he or she have been more likely to obtain a Native American piece or a piece from an Asian culture?
Finally, have someone knowledgeable in Native American items appraise the box in person for you if you think it could be Native American made. If it is, it could be quite valuable.
If you are not interested in its value, perhaps you should just enjoy it for what it is !
Who is Knifewing?
Knifewing, also Knife Wing, is a half man – half eagle Zuni spirit or god with razor sharp feathers made of flint. He is the ultimate warrior.
Anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, who lived with the Zunis from 1879-1884 described knifewing this way:
“This curious god is the hero of hundreds of folklore tales, the tutelary deity of several societies of Zuni. He is represented as possessing a human form, furnished with flint knife-feathered pinions, and tail. His dress consists of the conventional terraced cap (representative of his dwelling place among the clouds). His weapons are the Great Flint-Knife of War, the Bow of the Skies (the Rainbow), and the Arrow of Lightning. His guardians or warriors are the Great Mountain Lion of the North and that of the upper regions. He was doubtless the original War God of the Zunis.”
Horace Iule (also known for his crosses) is credited with creating the first knifewing design in the late 1920s, cut and filed out of wrought silver. Afterwards, other Zuni, Navajo and Pueblo began producing knifewing designs. The knifewing became one of the first designs that the Zuni inlaid with stones.
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Handmade sterling silver Navajo boxes vary greatly in size and can be used for meds or Tums or….stamps ! In fact, some of the small square ones used to be called “stamp boxes” when we had small square stamps and used them. Today the round boxes are usually referred to as pill boxes. Deeper boxes are great to store a precious piece of jewelry, to save a tooth for the tooth fairy or to collect just because they are such wonderful works of art. Larger sterling silver boxes are like little treasure chests and are prized possessions.
To make a small sterling silver box, the artist must go through many steps:
Two rectangles of the same size are cut from a sterling silver sheet.
The corners are notched.
The sides of the bottom are bent and soldered to form the correct size.
Two short strips of sterling silver tubing are soldered on the back of the bottom. This will be the basis for the hinges.
Wire is put through the tubing and bent into a V shape.
The sheet that will be the top is stamped with a design.
The top is then pressed onto a lead die to form its shape.
The edges of the top are bent and the corners are soldered.
A stone is selected.
A bezel is made and soldered in the center of the lid.
The hinge wire is very carefully soldered to the box top.
The stone is set.
The box is finished (pickeled, polished or antiqued.)
I am interested in buying some pill boxes for Christmas presents. Please let me know the sizes of the following boxes displayed on your website:
Boxes by J Castillo: BX601, BX614, BX623
Box by L Yazzie: BX624
Thank you, Professor RWC
Each of those pill boxes has its own individual page that not only tells you
the dimensions but also shows more photo views, so, although I can provide
that info for you – it really would be best for you to go to those pages so you can see all of the information and where the order buttons are located.
When you are on the Navajo Sterling Silver Box page just click on the box you are interested it, for example for BX601, it will take
you to the page for that particular box where you can see the sizes, hallmarks, and another view of the box.
Please let me know if I can help further. Paula
Hi again Paula,
Thanks. I did not realize I could click on the picture for more information. I looked at them and have another question. They do not seem to have a latch to keep them shut. If I put some aspirin in one and put it in my pocket or in a purse, will it stay shut? Or is it necessary to put a rubber band around the boxes to keep them shut? Prof RWC
They have little protrusions on the pill box and corresponding dimples on the lid so the lids click shut. I’ve carried several in my purse for years and never had one open. If you look at this one, for example,
and look at the photo where the pill box is open, – if you look directly across from the hinge, at the front of the case, you will see a little protrusion (nipple), then if you look at the open lid you will see a corresponding dimple.
This is called a nipple click closure and here is another example that might
show it better
Except for the treasure chest which has a hasp latch and the deep round boxes which have friction fit closures, all pill boxes have a nipple click lock closures.
I didn’t realize that we hadn’t pointed this out better on our pages………thanks for the question !