Friday, July 14, 2017

Another Santa Fe show? Really?

Some of you may have noticed that Turkey Mountain Traders has a new show on the schedule for Santa Fe. This one is the Objects of Art show, which runs from August 10-13. The obvious question is why we need another show, since we already do our private condo show, the Antique Indian Show and the show at the Eldorado Hotel during Indian Market. The answer is that we will not be showing the same material at the Objects show--while the other shows will have our selection of jewelry, textiles and beadwork, the Objects show will feature a special Midwest collection of folk art and Mexicana--pottery, santos, ex votos, bateas, lacquerware and many other wonderful surprises.

Come see us at all the shows!

Friday, April 21, 2017

What you need in an appraisal

One of the most common questions we get is "How much is my (fill in the blank) worth?" And the most frustrating question we get is the exact same one. It isn't that we don't enjoy these Roadshow-type moments were we can help someone to greater cherish their family heirloom, because that can be very satisfying. But in most cases, it is an impossible situation for us, much like when someone asks an auto mechanic why their car won't start or a doctor why their finger hurts when they bend it backwards. In all those cases, there are two correct answers: first, "I have no idea without seeing it," and second, "Do you want an appraisal/diagnosis?"

If you feel sick, you go to a qualified doctor. If your car won't start, you drag it to a qualified mechanic. And if you don't know what Granny's old necklace is worth, you bring it to a qualified appraiser. But what you need from that appraiser may not be as simple as just a value--maybe you want to sell it, or maybe you want to know how much insurance you need for it. In the first case, the number you want is what the appraiser, or someone like them, would be willing to pay for it, while in the second case you want to now what you might have to pay to replace it if something terrible happened. The two numbers are normally quite different, and though both are true values you need to know before you bring the item in for an appraisal exactly why you are doing it.

A qualified and competent appraiser will ask you what type of appraisal you want, and will also tell you if the item is something that might be of interest if it were for sale. In some cases, the appraiser will not be a dealer in that type of material--which raises an interesting conundrum: how can an appraiser who is not actively involved in the marketplace have a true idea of current values? The answer to this problem is to find an appraiser who is both well-acquainted with the marketplace and USPAP (Uniform Standards of Property Appraisal Practices) compliant. USPAP requires appraisers who follow that set of guidelines to be completely transparent about any potential interest in objects they appraise, and to establish beforehand what type of appraisal is desired by the client. It is possible to be an active dealer AND be USPAP compliant, and such a person is likely to be a good candidate to handle your appraisal. (Also, by USPAP guidelines, they cannot give "off the cuff" appraisals without following a set of procedures that ensures the quality and thoroughness of the appraisal. Kind of like a doctor won't diagnose your athlete's foot while standing next to you at a bus stop.)

Turkey Mountain Traders does appraisals, and Steve has completed the course to become USPAP compliant. If we can help you with any appraisal needs, we are ready, willing and capable.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Patania or patina? To polish or not to polish

There are two schools of thought when it comes to cleaning or polishing American Indian silver. The first school of thought is that it was shiny when it was made, and it should be shiny now. The second is that patina is part of the history of any object, and should be left alone as much as possible. Both sides have their points, and both have their problems. So, which is it? Do we scrub all our silver down with a Brillo pad until it gleams like a mirror in the noonday sun? Or do we let it turn black with tarnish? In our minds, the answer is neither, and depends on the piece.

In general, tarnish on silver is a bad thing. Generations of English butlers can't be all wrong--the family silver needs to be polished. But does this hold true for antique Navajo silver? Should we bring out our silver polishing cream and make it gleam? Not really, no. We only used silver polishing cream when a piece has tarnished so badly that it is completely black, and the stamped or filed designs can no longer be seen. It is far preferable to use nothing but a silver polishing cloth to get off as much of the tarnish as will come, which is usually most of it. A general rule of thumb is that for unsigned pieces from before 1940, a polishing cloth is the only thing you should be using.

But what about more contemporary pieces done by known artists like Frank Patania Sr.? There, things are different. Unlike older pieces, the bright shine of the unstamped silver is an integral part of the beauty of the piece. This box is an excellent example:

The silver, unsullied by any markings, is supposed to stand alone and accent the turquoise setting in the center. In this case, it would be a crime to leave any tarnish on the smooth surface, which may mean using polishing cream.

In sum, if the artist used a smooth expanse of silver as a decorative element, we owe it to him /her to keep that surface as clean as possible. Therefore, polish away.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An Important Piece Everyone Should See

Once in a while, a piece comes our way that is so informative that we want everyone to see it, for what it can teach us. Here is one of those pieces, a truly great all-silver Navajo bracelet with a stunning twist.

The decoration on this bracelet is done with a combination of stampwork, filework and repousse, which is typical of high-quality early bracelets. It is fashioned from an annealed band of ingot silver, and then decorated before being rounded into bracelet shape.

This view of the inside shows the three long repousses, as well as some of the delaminations that developed in the silver during the annealing process. You can also see the sall bosse on the terminals, which were done by repousseing and filing the fluting onto the front side, a very difficult and time-consuming process. But what is truly stunning about this bracelet can be seen in the next photo:

In addition to the initials RNB, undoubtedly the original owner, there is a professionally engraved date on the back, the year 1905. Clearly, the original owner (or even a very early owner) took the bracelet to a professional jeweler and had initials and a date engraved on the back, where it can still be clearly seen. It is incredibly rare to find a great early piece with an associated date, and it shows what fine work the early Navajo silversmiths could accomplish. We and other scholars of old Navajo silver have always associated repousse and filework with pieces from this era, and this bracelet proves without a doubt how skilled the great artists of the 1900-1905 era really were at stampwork as well.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Silversmithing terms every collector should know, part 3

And one last time, with the help of the glossary found in SOUTHWEST INDIAN SILVER FROM THE DONEGHY COLLECTION, here is a guide to some of the important terms found in silverwork in general, and Southwest Indian silverwork in particular.(Illustrating photos are shown above the corresponding term.)

SHEET SILVER--silver formed into a flat sheet of uniform thickness, normally by mechanical means. Commercially produced sheet silver has been available in the Southwest since 1929.

SILVER--well, duh. Seriously, early silverwork (pre-1910, generally) was made from melted coins, which were normally around 90% silver and 10% copper. When laws were enacted making it illegal to destroy American currency, traders substituted silver ingots or slugs, which were a higher purity of silver. (Still looking to see when those laws were passed.)

SPINY OYSTER--a bivalve from the Gulf of California with a mottled red and white shell that was traded both prehistorically and historically to the tribes of the Southwest. Often set in silver jewelry or cut into beads. Not to be confused with red abalone, which has a similar look.

SPLIT BAND OR SPLIT SHANK--a basic form of bracelets (band) and rings (shank). A flat silver band is split in the middle, with the ends being left alone, and the splits are then spread out to widen the piece.

SQUASH BLOSSOM--a bead consisting of a conical blossom attached to a round bead, frequently used in combination with other types of beads in a type of necklace that has also taken the name of Squash Blossom. The form is likely derived from Spanish trouser buttons, which were in the form of pomegranates.

STAMPWORK--decoration of a silver surface by striking it with a metal stamp with a raised design. By repeating simple elements, elaborate designs can be formed with simple tools.

TURQUOISE--the generally blue or blue-green mineral that is the most commonly used stone in Southwest Indian jewelry and silverwork.

WIRE--silver wire was a commonly used decorative element, and the earliest bracelets were simple silver wire bangles. Early wire was hand-drawn through a draw plate, while later in the early 20th Century commercial square and round wire became available.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Silversmithing terms every collector should know, part 2

Again, with the help of the glossary found in SOUTHWEST INDIAN SILVER FROM THE DONEGHY COLLECTION, here is a guide to some of the important terms found in silverwork in general, and Southwest Indian silverwork in particular.(Illustrating photos are shown above the corresponding term.)

KETOH--a wide leather band worn on the forearm by Navajo archers to protect them from the snap of the bowstring. Silver plates were often attached to the leather, turning a utilitarian object into a piece of adornment. Also called a bowguard.

NAJA--a crescent-shaped ornament used as a pendant on horse bridles and necklaces. Probably derived from Spanish and Moorish decorative elements in leatherwork.

NEEDLEPOINT--a technique mainly used at Zuni where elongated pieces of turquoise are set in parallel or concentric rows.

OVERLAY--a technique where a silver sheet with cutout designs is soldered on to a backing piece of silver. The indented areas are then blackened by oxidation to emphasize the contrast. Developed at Hopi during the 1940s, and considered the quintessential Hopi technique.

REPOUSSE--relief decoration of a flat piece of silver by hammering out a pattern from the reverse side. Often complemented by filing or stampwork.

Part 3 will be coming shortly, so stayed glued to your screen.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Silversmithing terms every collector should know, part 1

Speaking the language in a foreign country can make any trip more enjoyable, especially since it lessens the odds of inadvertently ordering braised sheep bladder in a fine restaurant. In a trip into the world of antiques, there is often another language to be spoken, which can be just as incomprehensible as Lower Slavonic to the neophyte. Luckily, our little corner of the antiques world (American Indian silverwork in particular) has a relatively limited supply of strange words that tip the collecting scale towards "must have". With the help of the glossary found in SOUTHWEST INDIAN SILVER FROM THE DONEGHY COLLECTION, here is a guide to some of the important terms found in silverwork in general, and Southwest Indian silverwork in particular.(Illustrating photos are shown above the corresponding term.)

ANNEALING--a process of tempering metal by heating and rapid cooling. Usually, it involves hammering the softened metal into the desired shape and form. Most silverwork done before 1940 in the Southwest was either annealed or cast.

APPLIQUE--a small decorative element, such as wire, soldered to the main body of the object.

BEZEL--a thin strip of silver rimming a stone and holding it to the backing. In early pieces, the bezel was usually notched and folded over the stone to a small degree, to help hold the stone in place without the silver crimping and creasing.

BOSS--a raised element, that can be either repoussed or soldered on to the main body of the object.

CABOCHON--a style of stonecutting in which the stone is polished into a rounded surface and not faceted. Most turquoise set in post-1920 silver items is in cabochon form.

CASTING--formation of an object in a mold, which in this case meant pouring molten silver into a mold. Different types of casting will be discussed later.

CHANNEL INLAY--the process of setting pieces of stone or shell into silver channels as part of a larger design. Historically, characteristic of Zuni work, though in later years the process has been used by artists from many different groups.

CHASING--decoration on silver with a chisel and hammer. Normally only occurs on very early Navajo work, as it was quickly replaced by stamping.

CONCHO--a flat sliver plate usually decorated with radiating designs and used in groups as part of a belt or bridle. The edges are normally scalloped, and the shape is usually elliptical or round.

HUBBELL GLASS--glass beads, usually a vibrant blue, that were imported from Italy and Bohemia and sold as a substitute for turquoise. Juan Lorenzo Hubbell, the trader at Ganado, Arizona, was such a proponent of these beads that they eventually took his name.

INGOT--silver that has been melted and cast into a form for later use. Ingot silver can describe a piece of jewelry that was originally produced from a silver ingot, rather than from commercially rolled sheet silver.

JACLA--a small loop of discoidal turquoise and shell beads, originally worn either as an earring or as a drop on a larger necklace.

Stay tuned for part 2.