Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The answer to a common question

After "Can I use the bathroom?" and "What's your dog's name?" the most commonly asked question in our gallery is "Which piece is the oldest?" When our entire inventory is taken into account, the answer is this:

It is an Iroquois beaded bag that dates to circa 1820, and since the Navajo weren't producing metal jewelry at that time, none of our silver can match that. But if you limit the selection to jewelry, here is the winner:

This pair of copper hoops has a very interesting history. Most of our pieces come from private collections where they were appreciated and treasured. Sometimes, they weren't understood, but the owners at least knew they were around. With this pair of earrings, neither was the case. They were found in a drawer, in a very interesting location--Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Fort Huachuca dates back to 1877, which is probably about when these earrings were made. The fort is not in Navajo country, but it is certainly in Apache country, and trade between the Apaches and Navajo, both willing and unwilling, was extremely common in the 19th Century.
The copper wire hangers are recent additions, of course.

The wire has clearly been hand-worked--note the "seam" visible in the photo above at about 7 o'clock. There is also pitting that is consistent with someone working copper in a somewhat crude fashion.

Items like this can be very difficult to date, but the hand-worked character of these hoops, coupled with the wear and filework you can see on the ends, make anything other than a 1865-1880 date unlikely. The collection history also makes a 20th Century date nearly impossible, because Indian trade at the fort (which is not exactly located in a bustling population center, even by Arizona standards) would have been essentially shut down in the 20th Century.
Here is the earrings without the hanging wires. You can see the tapering ends, very characteristic of early hoop earrings. For anyone interested in wearable history, this pair of earrings is a real treasure. They are just over 1 1/4" in diameter, and actually are
more of a coppery color than shows in the photos. Their price is $895.
If you have any questions about them, please give us a call at (480) 423-8777. We are very proud of them--they are some of the earliest we have seen. To see another pair of early copper earrings, go to page 103 of the Frank and Holbrook book for a hammered pair in the Fred Harvey collection at the Heard Museum. There are also many examples of similar hoops done in silver throught the book.