Native American Buttons and Button Covers

Buttons on Native American dresses, shirts. leggings and moccasins were originally of bone, shell, stone and other natural materials.

In the mid 1800’s, a few Navajo began to learn the art of silversmithing from Mexican plateros.

To learn more on that, read my article   Where did Navajo silversmiths learn their craft?

Early silver beads and buttons were made from coins. Later when silver and sterling silver were more available, buttons were made from ingots and sheet silver.

Read about early Navajo silversmiths.

Early buttons from about 1870 were round, flat and with two holes like conventional buttons. Plain domed silver buttons were made soon thereafter.

 

Buttons were originally for fastening garments but soon became more ornamental and even were used as a trade item. Navajo Indian agent John H. Bowman observed in 1886 “When they wish to buy anything and have no wool to exchange, they simply cut off the needed number of buttons. These vary in value from 2 1/2 cents to $1 – and are never refused as legal tender in this vicinity.”

With access to more diverse tools in the late 1800s and early 1900s, hand-made buttons were domed, filed, etched, fluted, stamped and a loop would be forge-soldered onto the back.

Stones were added about 1900.

See the end of this article for several book excerpts that show button-making techniques.

When button production became mechanized (die cut and machine stamped) hand-made buttons which were labor intensive couldn’t compete price-wise so fewer were made. That’s why hand-made Navajo buttons are fairly scarce.

 

A mixture of vintage buttons and contemporary button covers - can you tell which are which?

A mixture of vintage buttons and contemporary button covers – can you tell which are which?

Enter button covers………………

A variety of sterling silver button covers

The 1970s Native American jewelry boom (see my article The 1970s Native American Jewelry Boom) and the popularity of southwestern and western style dress beginning in the 1980s brought us the tourist version of the Native American button – the button cover –  a clever system that could be slipped over and clasped to any button to dress up a shirt or dress. Instant Urban Cowboy !

Manufactured (not Native American made) southwestern style sterling silver button covers.

Buffalo Nickel Button Covers

The hinged fasteners are machine made of plated steel or stainless steel.

Commercially stamped sterling silver button covers

The design portion or button cover top is usually made of sterling silver. They can be Native American hand-made or commercially machine made.

Contemporary Native American made button covers

Yellowhorse hallmark on above group of button covers

Since most buttons and button covers do not have hallmarks, it requires experience and a good eye to recognize design styles and see details under magnification to determine whether the button tops are hand made or machine made.

Likely these are Native American made concha style sterling silver button covers.

It is possible that the sterling silver shadowbox bear paws with turquoise cabochon were made in a Native American shop.

Navajo-made onyx button covers with dangles – you might ask why one has the oval dangle stones set horizontally and the other vertically……….this is not a set but two individual button covers designed to be worn on the top button of a shirt or blouse. So perhaps his and hers?

 

BOOK EXCERPTS SHOWING HOW BUTTONS ARE MADE

 

Indian Silversmithing by E. Ben Hunt

Indian Silversmithing by E. Ben Hunt

 

Indian Jewelry Making by Oscar T. Branson

Paula

 

Unknown Hallmark on Vintage Claw Pendant

This vintage (perhaps 1960-1980?) claw pendant has all the characteristics of being Navajo made.

It does have a hallmark but I have been unable to connect it to a specific artist.

It is similar to many leaf and feather hallmarks, but none quite like this.

If anyone does know this hallmark, please let me know ! thanks, Paula

Marcus Coochwykvia Hopi Silversmith

Eagle buckle by Marcus Coochwykvia

 

Marcus Coochwykvia

Marcus Coochwykvia has been working as a Silversmith since the 1970’s.  

Trained to make jewelry first by his brother-in-law Glen Lucas, then Roy Talahaftewa and through his association with Hopicrafts, Marcus appears in many books on Native American jewelry.

He lives in Mishongnovi and is a member of the Bear Clan.  Although some of Marcus’ pieces have a hallmark of a Bear Paw with Friendship Marks in the pad, some just have his initials MC.

My belt buckle has both marks.

Hallmark of Marcus Coochwykvia

 

 

Paula

Many Men Thank Mary Bill on Mother’s Day

Mary Bill, along with her husband Ken Bill, is known for crafting heavy Sterling bracelets with and without gold.

Customarily, she uses at least 10 gauge sheet silver (and often 8 gauge) making her bracelets thick, durable and with great appeal to men.

Often she finishes the ends with a widened fishtail for comfort.

Sometimes she uses a lighter gauge silver and then use a combination of stamping, oxidation, and lightly brushing to give a satin finish.

She also makes substantial link bracelets

She has used and uses a number of hallmarks usually with STERLING and often with NAVAJO

Here are some of them:
K & M BILL
Mary and Ken Bill
Mary (often along with KENNETH BILL)
Mary Bill

Thank you Mary Bill and Happy Mother’s Day !

Paula

Wesley Craig AKA Wes Craig, Navajo Jeweler

Navajo artist Wesley Craig, born 1959 in Gallup, New Mexico, has been actively making jewelry since 1974. Son of Robert Etsitty Craig Jr. and Marie Craig, he was taught his craft by his mother Marie.

His hallmark is usually Wes Craig in script inside a feather but he also has used WC. Often he adds IHMSS – Indian Hand Made Sterling Silver.

Sometimes the Running Bear shop mark (RB inside a bear) is also included which would indicate he made the item at Running Bear Trading Co in Gallup, New Mexico.

His brother, Hyson Craig, is also a notable Navajo jeweler.

Paula

Restringing a Squash Blossom Necklace

When this arrived in a recent estate lot, I went eeek ! and then promptly contacted our favorite repair shop. Although we can make minor repairs and alterations here at our store, we leave something like this to a professional that has experience with Native American jewelry.

A jumble of beads and a broken wire – I wonder if everything is here to make a necklace again??!!

The 14 mm handmade beads are stamped on both side and so are the blossoms – quite rare !

As usual Old Town did their magic – straightening any bent blossom petals, balancing all the beads beautifully, making a new hook and eye closure….resulting in a treasure of a necklace.

The repair shop we use…….
Contact Diane Radeke at
Old Town Trading Co. / Jewels of the West
4009 N. Brown Ave.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
602-350-4009
info@oldtownjewels.com

See this related article

Shortening a Squash Blossom Necklace for Paula

Paula

Unique Claw Bracelet

This 146 gram claw bracelet has a very unique design.  It is new old stock (NOS) from a store that closed about 10 years ago. Other than that, I have no information on its age but based on the rest of the inventory of that store, I would guess 1980 to 2000 or thereabouts.

It is hallmarked STERLING and TN

According to hallmark references, it seems like that could be the hallmark of Navajo artist, Tammy Nelson. It does seem consistent with Navajo style.

Does anyone recognize this work or hallmark?

Hallmark: STERLING TN

Turquoise cabochon set in the claws on the sides

Handmade, stamped sterling silver fetish bear on each side

Heavy three wire frame

Will fit approximately a 7″ wrist

Onyx cabochon is 1 1/2″ x 1 1/8″

Paula