Native American Jewelry Authentication Resources – Buyer Beware

This necklace fooled a lot of people, including the savvy collector who bought it years ago as well as several dealers in the business for over 40 years. It is not Native American made – it was made in the Philippines.

 

BUYERS

If you are thinking of purchasing a piece of vintage or contemporary jewelry and you assume or are told by the seller that it is Native American made, before you plunk down the cash, I encourage you to read through this article to find ways to authenticate the piece.

ebay has some very good sellers and can be a great place to shop but it is also loaded with counterfeit items and misrepresented pieces. BUYER BEWARE !

This is especially important if you are considering purchasing on eBay, etsy or one of the Native American warehouse type sites. While there are many educated, experienced, honest sellers on the internet, there are also those who either  A. don’t know or B. intentionally misrepresent. The latter type of seller really confuses things for everybody. So buying Native American jewelry on eBay or other auction sites is definitely a case of Buyer Beware.

SELLERS

I know there are many long-term, experienced and honest sellers of Native American jewelry around. So this information is not directed at you. The intent is to help new and inexperienced sellers of Native American jewelry.

If you are new to the Native American jewelry arena, know that if you are describing a piece as Native American made, you have a legal responsibility to be sure that it is authentic. These resources are provided to both serve your customers AND protect you as the seller.

Your reputation depends on satisfied customers and honest transactions. It doesn’t take long for word to get around if you are trying to pull a fast one to make a bigger sale through misrepresentation. And using “I didn’t know” doesn’t cut it. As a seller you are legally obligated to accurately represent the authenticity of an item. If you don’t know, take a deep breath, say you know don’t know and most importantly, don’t call it Native American.

NATIVE AMERICAN MADE OR NATIVE AMERICAN STYLE?

There is

A. authentic Native American made jewelry

B. counterfeit jewelry sold as Native American made (see next section)

C. Native American style jewelry that is not Native American made.

The latter type is also sometimes referred to as southwest jewelry since it copies many of the materials and designs of the southwest tribes.

I got into a funny back and forth discussion once with a customer who was trying to sell us her jewelry collection, mostly non NA made. They were nice sterling silver inlay pieces very typical of the southwest style. I said we weren’t interested as they were not authentic NA made. But she kept insisting that they were “real”, I think referring to the materials. Yes, real in the sense that you can touch and see the sterling and stone but they still were not made by NA hands, so they were not authentic NA made.

A perfect example of this type of “real” southwest jewelry (but not authentic Native American made jewelry) is Carolyn Pollack jewelry. Some of the pieces from that company are sterling silver and some also have real stones. People that like it love it.

Carolyn Pollack Southwest Style -Sterling Silver-YES …………………….. Real Turquoise – PROBABLY NOT ……………………………………………Pretty- YES ………………………………………………………………………….. Native American made – NO

There is a place for all type of items in the marketplace – as long as they are described accurately. Call a spade a spade.  You can read a little bit more about southwest style jewelry in my article “Info please on this pendant necklace with a crescent moon and a R”.

To qualify as Native American made, the piece must be made by a recognized, enrolled member of a Native American tribe.

Sterling Silver Wedding Basket Pendant by Navajo artist R.H. Begay

Read about the rules and regulations at the website of The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 where it states that “it is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian tribe.”

Below is an excellent article about a historic authentication group UITA.

Quest for Authenticity – The United Indian Traders Association: Better Quality, Greater Sales by Bille Hougart

FAKE NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY

There is a lot of counterfeit jewelry around – it is being sold as Native American made but is NOT. This is a distressing fact of life. What is even sadder is that the counterfeiters even copy the known hallmarks of legitimate NA artists, cutting sharply into the profits of the authentic artists and making it hard for even seasoned retailers to know the difference. Grrrrrrrr………..

Some of the counterfeit jewelry seized in a recent raid

Much of this type of counterfeit jewelry comes from overseas and is blatantly sold right in the heart of Indian country such as Gallup, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and the like.

To read about this problem and the latest sting operation, read  Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed

HALLMARKS

 

 

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Hallmarks are a great aid in linking an artist to a work but they are only one piece of the puzzle. It is just as important to know materials and design style of an artist. And due to the counterfeiting of the hallmarks themselves, some hallmarks are faked!

Authentic Native American items may or may not be hallmarked. Hallmarks are much more common since the 1970s but even today, many artists do not sign their work. This is especially true of stone necklaces, Navajo Pearls and earrings where there isn’t a convenient place to put a a hallmark. Hallmark tags are sometimes used on necklaces.

For more on hallmarks, read my articles:

What is a Native American Hallmark?

Native American Hallmark Books

Book Review – Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks by Bille Hougart

Here is another great article from a favorite blogger of mine Kim Messier Reassessing Native American Hallmark Books

There is also an extensive hallmark list on this website

BOOKS

Besides hallmark books, there are many other books and published materials related to vintage and contemporary Native American jewelry. Look through the list of books in our reference library by clicking the link below:

Native American Reference Library at Horsekeeping LLC

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BUY DIRECT FROM THE ARTIST OR FROM TRUSTED SELLERS

The best way to know you are buying authentic items, is to buy directly from the artist or from trusted galleries and sellers.

Horsekeeping LLC

Most artists are not set up to sell retail – they do not have stores or websites. Some artists do. But most sell to gallery or store owners that want to carry their work.  For example, read our authenticity policy at our webstore horsekeeping.com.

Authenticity of Native American Jewelry Policy at Horsekeeping

Vintage Shop at Horsekeeping LLC

Our MO (Method of Operation) is that if we have not purchased the item directly from the artist (which occurs frequently when we purchase estate lots) we try to authenticate the origin definitively. If we can not, then we do not call it Native American, we do not call it Navajo, Zuni or Hopi. We just sell it as-is even though it might show all the characteristics of being Native American made. This is important to us, to our customers and to Native American artists.

If an item is of unknown origin and/or materials and does not show design or workmanship characteristics of Native American jewelry, it goes into the Bargain Barn. We have made a few mistakes over the years and put some valuable things in there just because we couldn’t authenticate them. But better to err on the safe side.

Bargain Barn for items of unknown origin

 

CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY

Unless filled out by the artist, a COA is not worth the paper it is printed on………..

Legally, only the artist who makes a piece can fill out a Certificate of Authenticity (COA). Otherwise IMHO, a COA is not worth the paper it is printed on. Therefore, for a seller to send you a generic certificate or one that the seller signs serves no purpose. Most artists sign their work with a hallmark.  Of those that do not sign, very few provide COAs.

NATIVE AMERICAN JEWELRY GROUPS

So what to do in the case of unsigned vintage or contemporary pieces? One route it to find Native American jewelry “experts”. The internet makes this possible through groups.

There are many groups on the internet that are devoted to Native American jewelry,. Some have great educational and sharing atmospheres! Others are negative and combative and some members give answers and opinions that are self-aggrandizing and self-serving. As with any group, the cream will rise to the top.  I’ll list a few of my favorite groups below. After you successfully join the group, ask for comments on the piece you are considering buying or are getting ready to sell.

Here are some group tips:

  1. When you post to a group, give as much information as possible: dimensions, weight, type of materials, where you got it, any other provenance you might have.
  2. Include a lot of photos with your question. They should be large, clear and show all aspects of the piece, including closeups of key features and hallmarks. Even with all this it is sometimes hard to tell for sure if something is authentic from photos. There is nothing like having the piece in hand. But in many cases, photos do the trick because certain aspects are easily recognizable.
  3. Everyone has an opinion. Some opinions are better than others. And some opinions are just not right ! Once you join a group you will soon learn which members not only have an opinion but back it up with experience, facts, information and research. Those members are gold.
  4. Some comments might sting because not all members filter their thoughts. Your 1970s bracelet might be called rough or ugly even if it IS NA made. So brace yourself for some honest opinions. Also be ready for people to make inappropriate comments when they haven’t even taken the time to thoroughly look at your photos, read your description or read previous comments. Some just leap before they look. Or look but do not see. So take all comments with a grain of salt.
  5. Be polite and grateful and contribute when you can – that’s what makes a community work !
  6. Don’t use the group space for personal chatter and silliness. Most groups prefer to stick to the topics at hand. Post a serious inquiry, you are likely to get a serious answer. After all, that is what you want, right?

Here are some of my favorite groups – please let me know of others that you think should be added to the list.

Navajo Jewelry: Antique, Mid-Century, & Contemporary

Historic Navajo Jewelry

Let’s Talk Turquoise

Historic Hopi and Pueblo Jewelry

Contemporary Zuni Jewelry

Historic Zuni Jewelry

Zuni Jewelry – Let the Buyer Beware

Paula

Awanyu, Plumed Serpent

Awanyu (also Avanyu), is a plumed or horned serpent said to be the guardian of water by the southwest Puebloans.

Awanyu by Cody Cheama

Awanyu by Cody Cheama

Awanyu by Cody Cheama

The curves and zig zags represent flowing water and lightning.

Alice Platero

Awanyu appears on the walls of caves located high above canyon rivers in New Mexico and Arizona.

Tsirege (also Tshirege) is an Anasazi Pueblo archaeological site located west of White Rock, New Mexico. Tsirege. occupied from c. 1325 to c. 1600, has 800 rooms. Tsirege means “bird place” in the Tewa language. The site includes a long defensive wall, 10 kivas, a reservoir, and many significant petroglyph panels including this one of awanyu.

Thank you to Art Tafoya for introducing me to this deity !

Paula

Woody Crumbo

The Flute Dance (722) by Woody Crumbo

Woodrow “Woody” Crumbo, Potawatomi
1912-1989
Woody Crumbo was an artist, Native American flute player, and dancer who lived and worked mostly in the West of the United States.

His paintings are in the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Thomas Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Woody Crumbo was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1978 for his paintings. He served as an “ambassador of good will” for Oklahoma, appointed in 1982 by Governor George Nigh.

Peace Offering (812) by Woody Crumbo

While studying art in Kansas and Oklahoma during the 1930s, Crumbo supported himself as a Native American dancer, performing on reservations across the United States. He was a conduit – collecting and exhibiting traditional dances.

To see more detail about the dances that are shown in the slide show below, click here.

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He became the Director of Art at the Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 1938-1941, succeeding Acee Blue Eagle.

The Shield Dance by Acee Blue Eagle

In 1939, the U. S. Department of the Interior commissioned him to paint murals on the walls of its building in Washington D. C. His “peyote bird” design became the logo for the Gilcrease Museum.

Peyote Bird by Woody Crumbo

From 1948 to 1960, Woody Crumbo lived in Taos, New Mexico. It is there he began making multiple “originals” using engraving, printing, silkscreen.

Paula

The Role of Churro Sheep and Angora Goats in Navajo Life

Sheep by Navajo Harold Davidson

Sheep and goats have been an important part of Navajo life since the 1500s.  Read about the importance they have played in Navajo life by clicking on the titles below:

A Short History on Navajo-Churro Sheep

The Oldest Domesticated Livestock in the United States: Navajo-Churro

Angora Goal by Navajo Harold Davidson

Churro Sheep

Navajo Churro Sheep

Native Americans were first introduced to Churra sheep brought to North America by colonizing Spaniards in the 1500s. The Navajo and Zuni proved to be very good herders and weavers and Churro sheep became a main source of their negotiable wealth.  Churros come in a variety of colors, including reds, browns, black, white, and mixes, and color may change with age.

Sheep by Navajo Harold Davidson

The color is made up of fleece color and the separate color of the head and legs. The fleece comes in a wide variety of natural colors and may have spots and patches of contrasting color. In many cases this eliminates the need for dying although some natural dyes are used to produce deeper colors. The Navajo people have used Churro fleece in rugs and other weavings for many years.

Churro ewe and lamb

Navajo Angora Goats

Records related to Angora Goats state that the mohair has been used as far back as the time of Moses. Goats are said to be the second animal to be domesticated (dogs were first).  The Navajo Angora, also known as the ‘Spanish’, ‘Traditional’, or ‘Heritage’ Angora, are not of Spanish origin but are descendants of animals first imported from Turkey to the United States in 1849 by Dr. James P. Davis of South Carolina.

Angora Goat

Navajo, already raising Churro sheep and other goats, added Angora goats to their flocks in the early 1900s. Both Churro Sheep and Angora Goats tolerate the southwest’s arid climate and harsh browsing conditions.

Angora Goat

 


The Navajo Angora has ample fiber coverage over its entire body, but lacks fiber coverage on its face past the forehead, ears, and legs below the hock/knee (a small amount of downy fiber on the sides of the legs is sometimes seen).  This is an advantage as it prevents build up of burrs and other plant materials in the areas most likely to contact plants. Animals can be of any color or pattern. The average Navajo Angora produces 3-4 pounds of mohair per shearing and are shorn twice a year. 

Angora Goat by Navajo Harold Davidson

Sheep images in Native American art represent charity, patience, gentleness and riches. Sheep, goats and weaving are familiar scenes on storyteller items.

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Paula

Vintage Petrified Wood, Picture Jasper and Fossilized Agate Bracelets

Some vintage Native American jewelry features beautiful “stones” that almost seem to show a scene or tell a story. Such stones could be Petrified Wood, Picture Jasper, or Agate.

(In all these photos, please ignore the reflection from the lights – although these bracelets are over 50-60 years old, the stones are as bright and shiny as the day they were made and really reflect the light.)

Petrified wood is result of fossilization, the transformation of wood into agate through the process of absorption of the minerals into the cells of the wood. The resulting agate can be harder than steel.

Petrified wood can contain a wide variety of materials and minerals but most commonly agate, jasper and opalized wood.

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The colors that appear depend on what minerals are present. Iron oxides show reds and browns while manganese results in pink.

 

 

Copper, cobalt, and chromium will exhibit as greens and blues. Carbon is black and silica is white or gray.

 

Picture Jasper is similarly formed when quartz-rich mud is fossilized.
With all those colors from unique layers of various minerals, the specific chemical environment (pH, moisture, temperature etc.) surrounding the wood or mud along with the factor of time, some beautiful scenes and symbols can appear in petrified wood, picture jasper and agate.

 

Paula

Authentic Native American Indian Fetish Necklaces

To begin talking about Native American fetish necklaces, first a little bit about fetishes.

A Native American fetish is a stone or shell carving and sometimes antler or wood, usually in the image of an animal.

Zuni Horse Fetish made of Acoma Jet

Indian fetishes can be carried or displayed. Those that are carried are often called pocket fetishes.

Lakota Pipestone Buffalo Fetish – makes a great pocket fetish because of its smooth surface and sturdy construction.

Those that are displayed are called table fetishes.

Zuni Deer Fetish carved from Antler

Zuni artists are the traditional fetish carvers but there are many talented Navajo carvers as well.

Pig by Stanton Hannaweeke – Zuni

Bobcat by Navajo Herbert Davis

To read more about fetishes, see my other blog posts:

Native American Fetish Carvings – What are they used for?

Animal Fetish Powers

Types of Native American Fetishes

Serpentine used in Native American Fetish Carvings

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

How Do I Display Zuni Native American Fetish Carvings?

Native American Fetishes – Zuni Carving Families

The Power of Native American Fetish Carvings – Story of the Midnight Bear

Native American Stone Fetish Carvings – Six Directions

How Zuni Navajo Native American Fetishes Are Made

 

FETISH NECKLACES

Vintage Fetish Necklace – origin unknown

Native American fetish necklaces are made with small fetishes that are drilled and strung like beads with fine shell, turquoise or jet heishi in between. Just like with pocket and table fetishes, fetish necklaces are made by both Navajo and Zuni artists.

AND BEWARE !! There are many NON- Native American fetish necklaces. They are usually made overseas and sold as Native American. BAD !!! Below is a slide show of 3 common imported, faux Native American necklaces. When we get items like this in an estate lot, we sell them in our Bargain Barn.

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Like any Native American item, buy directly from the maker or from a trusted seller.

Navajo horse fetish necklace

 

The animals can vary but often include birds, bears, horses, mountain lions, turtles, foxes, wolves and many others.

Zuni fetish necklace with many animals

The stones and shells usually used include turquoise, mother of pearl, pink shell, acoma jet, serpentine, pipestone and many others.

Navajo Fetish Necklace

Here are some more of my blog posts that relate to fetish necklaces:

What is a stacked necklace? More on Navajo and Zuni Fetish Necklaces

Are these Bird Fetish Necklaces Authentic Native American made?

44 Bird Fetish Necklace – is it Native American made?

Stacked Fetish Necklace – is it authentic Native American made?

Wanted – A Six Directions Fetish Necklace Set

Native American Fetish Necklace – Signed by Artist?

Native American Wearable Art – Stacked Fetish Necklace

Hector Goodluck Monument Valley Fetish Necklace

Native American Fetish Necklace – Mother or Grandmother Necklace

Bird Fetish Necklace from Goodwill

Paula

The Three Stone Navajo Bracelet

One very traditional Navajo bracelet layout is the three stone bracelet.

#8 Turquoise 3 Stone Shadowbox bracelet by Navajo Wilbur Muskett

This layout is usually used when there are wonderful stones to showcase.

Vintage 3 Stone Bracelet with chisel mark E

The Three Stone layout works best if the stones match.

Vintage unsigned Royston Turquoise 3 Stone bracelet

Often the central stone is larger and the two sides stones are smaller.

Vintage unsigned 3 Stone bracelet

Sometimes the central stone is smaller and the two side stones are larger.

Vintage unsigned 3 stone bracelet

 

It is equally suitable to use the layout on a wire bracelet or a cuff.

Read about wire bracelets here – Wire Bracelets

Vintage unsigned 3 stone Bisbee turquoise bracelet on heavy 3 wire frame

 

Three stone White Buffalo Stone cuff bracelet by Joe Piaso

Read about White Buffalo Stone.

 

Vintage 3 stone bracelet with partial hallmark of P. This is a cross between a wire and a cuff bracelet. There is a heavy 4 wire framework and a solid sterling faceplate under the stones.Paula