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

Native American Jewelry – Can you help with this buckle?

Hi Paula,

I have a Native American eagle belt buckle. Silvertone with turquoise chip inlay. The back of the buckle has an Indian head as the mark/logo. Would this be a specific artist or school? The metal is heavy.
Thank you, Wanda

((Note: To preserve Wanda’s privacy since she is going to try to sell her buckle, I am not using the photo of her buckle but of one very similar to it as an example.))

 

Plated Steel Manufactured Non-Native American Buckle

Plated Steel Manufactured Non-Native American Buckle

 

Hi Wanda,

From looking at the photo, I’d say chrome or nickel plated steel.
I can see a bit of evidence of the plating wearing off the back.
It just doesn’t look like Sterling Silver but the only way to know for sure is to have it tested. I’m 99% sure it is not.

This would not be Native American made. I’m 100% sure on that. Therefore it should not be called Native American.

The material used for chips doesn’t look like natural turquoise or coral – they are too bright and artificial looking.  I’m 100% sure on that.

I’ve never seen that type of hallmark on the back nor is it in any of my hallmark books. It is likely the logo of the manufacturer.
Paula

Thank you, Paula
I appreciate the input. Knowing what it is NOT is helpful when I list it on eBay.
You are kind to have taken the time to help me. Now that I have your website, it is in My Favorites and I will visit often.
Take care, Wanda

My pleasure Wanda,
It is good when sellers such as yourself take the time to find out what they have before describing it and possibly inadvertently (and in other cases intentionally) misrepresenting it as Native American – which, by the way, is illegal on eBay and against Federal laws in the US. More on all that in a future post. It is always best to be informed and honest when selling. Best of luck.

Authentic Zuni Inlay Belt Buckle by Leslie and Gladys Lamy

Authentic Zuni Inlay Belt Buckle by Leslie and Gladys Lamy

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