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

Native American jewelry enthusiasts, collectors, wholesalers and retailers alike often refer to Bille Hougart’s book (Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks, Third Edition) as the “bible” and the most useful book on identifying Native American hallmarks.

This 7″ x 10″ fat paperback has 517 pages.

The bulk of the book, pages 34-416, consists of an alphabetical (usually by last name) list of artists. In many cases there is a photo of the hallmark along with biographical information such as tribal affiliation, birth date, types of jewelry usually made, family member of note and more.

 

Example of interior pages

There is a 10 page section in the front of the book that discusses the history and function of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

Following there are discussions of:

The Hopi Silver Craft Guild

The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild

United Indian Traders Association

The back matter contains an alphabetical listing of marks. This list is of the actual marks, different from the body of the book which is alphabetical by artists’ last names. This makes several ways to find who a mark belongs to.

Then there is 42 page section of symbol marks by category such as Paws, Sun etc.

To complete this essential work, there is a

Glossary

Acronym List

Bibliography

Useful Addresses

and an index.

If you have interest in Native American jewelry and need to identify hallmarks, this book is essential.

Paula

Hatbands – Native American and Otherwise

There is nothing like a nice handband to perk up an otherwise nondescript hat.

This article focuses mainly on hatbands but you will see that many of the example hats also have stampede strings. In case you are not familiar with them, they are basically a chinstrap fastener that can be used either under the chin or at the back of the head to help hold a hat on in the wind or during a stampede !!! They are usually left loose until needed as shown by Tom Selleck – sigh!

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, Tom Selleck, 1990. (c) MGM.

Stampede strings can be a simple leather “string” (on less expensive hats), braided leather (often kangaroo on Australian hats), braided horse hair with tassels (popular on US Western hats) and other materials.

There are various ways of attaching stampede strings to hats. Most of the hats shown here use the method where the stampede string encircles the crown and then passes through holes on either side of the brim. But there are other ways to attach them.  I will leave that for you to research – there are many helpful how-to articles on the internet.

So on to the “embellishment” portion of this post – the hatband !!

Most hats come with a ribbon band of some kind, narrow to wide. Depending on the hat, this might look the best. Simple. Elegant.

Other hats look great with a touch of horsehair either as a separate hatband or as part of the stampede string.

Almost any hat looks good with a concho belt hat band and some look good with beaded hat bands.

Following are some hat “case histories” with some information to help you decide if and how you might want to dress up your hat.

By the way………hatbands are not just for western hats…………they look great on most panama straw hats as well, as one of the examples below will show.  Maybe even on a fedora for the adventurous !

One thing to keep in mind as you add a hatband – the proper way to set a western hat down when you are not wearing it is upside down. (If you lay it down on its brim too many times, it ruins the shape of the brim.) Because of this tradition, you will want to be sure your hatband is securely fixed in place so it doesn’t fall off your hat.

 

Before I continue with the hat showcases………here are a few items that you might find handy.

 

Paula

What are Ranger Belts and Ranger Buckle Sets ?

In the mid 1800s, the Texas Rangers developed the Ranger Belt. It was designed so that they could carry a large, heavy sidearm, usually the Colt Walker, which had a holster that required a wide belt.

Texas Ranger Cpl. J. Walter Durbin (at right) said he had some 15 good men in Company D, though a few could be a “little fussy and dangerous” when drinking. Private Wood Saunders (at left) measured up splendidly—on both counts. This is one of my favorite photos because it shows how both Rangers carried their six-shooter Colts just forward of the hip, butt to the front, easily permitting a strong-hand cross draw. Courtesy Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library & J. Evetts Haley History Center and True West Magazine

Prior to this, the Rangers carried long guns and belts were not commonly used.

From True West Magazine: “The six-gun’s heft made impractical the common practice of stuffing a pistol into the waistband of the bearer’s pants, or into a cloth sash tied around the waist or hips meant to secure pistols, knives and other means of self-defense. Belts were not in common use at the time as pants were high-waisted and tightened with a cinch at the back, or supported with suspenders over the wearer’s shoulders. Thus, these Colts were carried in holsters mounted on saddles.”

By making a wide stiff belt but with narrower, more flexible billet straps in the front, the holster and heavy gun would be supported but the fastening of the belt would be easier. Because of the wide belt underneath the billets, the belt could be tightened without pinching because of the protective underlayer.

The belt design employed the same technique used for tightening horse cinches without pinching.

There is an underlayer of heavy leather under each ring that the latigo passes through, therefore no pinching when cinching up !

 

A modern ranger belt ready to dress up with a Native American buckle set.

A more modern variation of the Ranger Belt is the Tapered Belt that starts with a standard belt and tapers the buckle end and the tip end to a narrower width, usually 3/4″

The Ranger Belt or Tapered Belt will allow easy change if they come with 3 sets of snaps, one to attach the buckle and one each for the two keepers.

Tapered belt with 3 sets of snaps for Ranger Buckle Set

Kingman Inlay Ranger Buckle set by Zuni artist Stanford Coochi – shown on a Tapered Belt

To set the tip, simply punch a hole in the leather in alignment with the position of the peg in the tip and slip the leather in, lock it in place. The 1-3 series below uses the scrap leather than comes with the set to show how it is done. Photo #4 below shows a finished belt tip.

1 – The backside of the tip showing the peg

2 – Punch a hole in the same position as the peg

3 – Slip the Leather tip into the sterling tip, locking the hole onto the peg

4 – Finished belt tip for the belt below, back side

Sterling Silver Ranger Buckle set by Navajo artist Lee Charley – shown on a Tapered Belt

Paula

What does “snake eye” refer to in Native American jewelry?

I love snake eye jewelry and when I use the term I have found that even long-time Native American jewelry enthusiasts don’t know what I mean.

Snake eye is a technique of setting very small spherical pieces of turquoise. It is somewhat related to petit point and needle point but different in shape and much smaller.

Although these techniques began with Zuni artists around 1930-1940, today they are associated with both Zuni and Navajo jewelers.

All 3 techniques use cabochons, which are small stones that have been rounded on top (not faceted) and polished. It is the shape that differs.

Here is where a picture is worth a thousand words. Some examples……..first of PETIT POINT – teardrop shaped – round on one end, pointed on the  other.

Petit Point stick barrette by Navajo Zeita Begay, contemporary

Petit Point set by Phillip and Virginia Byjoe – Navajo, Vintage

Petit Point Cuff by Johnny Mike Begay, Navajo, Vintage

NOW ON TO NEEDLEPOINT – long and narrow, pointed on both ends.

Needle Point Zuni Bracelet and Ring by EVA L WYACO, contemporary

Needle Point barrette by Nathaniel Nez – Navajo, contemporary

And finally to SNAKE EYE – the reason for this post in the first place. Spherical.  These can range from small to tiny. Here are several examples of snake eye jewelry in various sizes.

Large Snake Eye – Ring by Elanda Wyaco – Zuni, vintage

Medium Snake Eye – Bolo by Bernall Natewa, Zuni, vintage

Tiny Snake Eye – Link bracelet by Stephen Haloo, Zuni, contemporary

So now that you are an expert, what would you call the ones in the photos below?

Paula

 

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

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