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.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A piece that deserves a closer look...

Once in a while, we find an item that we think is special in some way, and would be interesting to deconstruct. (We won't literally take it apart, so don't worry.) This time, the subject is B GD/20, a Navajo silver and turquoise bracelet from circa 1920.

The style with two tri-wires on either ide of a twisted square wire is not uncommon, and was one of the favored styles of that particular time. However, not many of these bracelets have the very cool details found on this one.

First off, note the plate under the turquoise. It is thick hand-pounded silver, rather than machine-milled commercial sheet. The irregularities of the edges mark it as pounded ingot, which is generally earlier and far ore desirable from a collector's standpoint than sheet silver.

Next, note the wear on the inside of the bracelet. The twisted square wire shows the type of wear consistent with years of use and skin contact, which is exactly what would be expected from an old piece.

Finally, the terminal ends are finished with a thick rectangular piece of silver instead of a thin piece--again, ingot silver rather than sheet silver.

There is more to be said about this wonderful bracelet--to hear the full story, give us a call or drop us an email. (480) 423-8777 and

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Where we'll be and why we'll be there

One of the hardest things about the business of selling antique American Indian items is figuring out how to put yourself in front of your customers. A website is a wonderful tool, but nothing beats the personal contact you get at shows and other live venues. Photos can give a good idea of what a certain piece has to offer, but you can't beat the touch and feel of a fine object. That is why we have always tried to travel to see our customers whenever and wherever possible, which has been one of the cornerstones of our business. The next year will have us following an especially ambitious travel schedule, with some new and exciting shows and events.

There are a plethora of antique and Native American shows we could do, enough to keep us busy every weekend if we so chose. But we try to be careful with the shows and events at which we exhibit, as this list of events points out.

November 4th--The St. Louis Indian and Western Art Show. A smaller show, more low-key than many, but probably the only good venue for Indian material in the Midwest.

November 11-12--Special Trunk Show in New York City. The Big Apple has always been a good market for us, and we were regular exhibitors at the Pier Show, which unfortunately died an untimely death. There are other suitable shows in the City, but none that fit well into our schedule, so we will be doing a trunk show on our own at the Skyline Hotel on 10th Avenue at 49th Street.

January 21-22--The High Noon Show in Mesa, Arizona. The best Western show in the country, with a lot of very fine Indian material as well. And since we lived in the Phoenix area for so long, it is always nice to see old friends.

February 17-19--The Marin Show in San Rafael, California. One of the longest-running Indian shows in the country, and a good place to see West Coast clients and friends.

February 28-March 5--Special Trunk Show at Bishop Gallery in Scottsdale during Heard Market. Those of you who have not been to Heard Market, which is basically like Santa Fe Indian Market in miniature, are missing a treat. And the Bishop Gallery, where we set up during that time, is one of the oldest and most interesting galleries in town, with a particular specialty in the work of Fritz Scholder.

Friday, September 9, 2016

What's Hot in Santa Fe

Like any other area of collection, the market for American Indian Art has its "hot" areas. Serious collectors will usually stick to their area of interest (or obsession, as the case may be) but the more casual collector can be influenced by what is considered to be popular. And this year, there was a clear winner in that category:

Good turquoise.

Not the types of turquoise that everyone considers top of the line, like great Lone Mountain, #8, Landers and Bisbee. Though those remain very popular, the hottest area of collecting was the turquoise in the next level, like Blue Gem, Kingman, Morenci, Royston and the Mountains (Indian and Red). Very fine stones all, but pricewise a notch below the most expensive stones, and therefore a good value. Most pieces with these stones do not have great age, since those mines were generally not open before 1930, but it is the quality and vibrancy of the stones that is the appeal.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Plains versus Woodlands--the Battle of the Beads

When the phrase “American Indian Beadwork” is used, the image that comes to most people’s minds is that of a pipe bag or warshirt covered with geometric beadwork. Of course, those are completely valid images, and some examples represent the art at its very highest level, but they represent Plains beadwork, which is only one part of the greater category. Tribes from the Plains had their own distinctive styles and techniques for beadwork, as did cultural groups from the Eastern Woodlands, Southeast, Southwest, Subarctic, Plateau, Prairie and Northwest Coast.

The earliest beading tradition resides in the Northeast, where items decorated exclusively with beadwork were collected as early as 1807. This great antiquity has led to many different variations in styles amongst the numerous tribes of this densely populated region, but there are some common denominators that differentiate the work done in the Eastern Woodlands from that done by artists of the Plains tribes.


As with the tribes of the Plains, the glass beads used by the native artists of the Eastern Woodlands were imported to America from European production centers such as Bohemia and Venice. (The answer to the commonly asked question of how the Indians made their glass beads is, of course, they didn’t.) Being so close to the main East Coast ports of Boston, New York and Philadelphia, it stands to reason that tribal groups in the Northeast would have earlier and better access to a variety of bead colors and sizes. From an early date, probably in the late 1780s and early 1790s, beadworkers of the various Woodlands tribes (mainly Iroquoian and Algonquian) made use of very small, brightly colored seed beads, in sizes as small as 20 beads per inch. The opening of the Erie Canal in the 1820s made visitor access to Native lands, as well as transport of these seed beads, even easier, and an increased non-native market for beaded items led to the use of larger seed beads that could cover more space more quickly. By the 1900s, the small beads were out of favor, replaced by those in the 8-14 per inch sizes.

In stark contrast, the early beads used by the Plains tribes generally appear around 1830, and are of the larger “pony bead” style, which are usually size 8-10 per inch. (Part of this is likely due to a lack of metal needles on the Plains, which were necessary for manipulating the tiny seed beads.) They were also in very limited colors, generally white, black and blue. (Woodlands beadwork of the 1830-40 era also incorporates pony beads, but normally only as edging rather than as part of the main design.) The tiny seed beads so favored in the Northeast do not show up in any meaningful profusion on the Plains, even fifty years later. Reservation-era Plains beadwork makes use of beads in the 10-12 per inch sizes, with very uncommon exceptions.


Though both Plains and Eastern Woodlands beadwork makes heavy use of the lazy stitch technique, where a line of beads is sewn down in spots to give a series of low loops, their use of this stitch was quite different. Woodlands work started as completely flat, but by the 1840s had developed a dimensionality that came from placing the ends of the lazy stitch loop close together, which caused the loop of beads to stand up off the surface of the object. The high loops could be grouped together to create convex designs, which was especially effective in rendering flowers. This “embossed beadwork” eventually became a trademark of many tribal groups, especially the Mohawks of Kahnawakee, whose huge pillows and purses of the 1890-1920 period were covered in huge layers of embossed beadwork.

It was quite different on the Plains, where lazy stitch was one of the generally preferred methods for covering an entire surface with a single layer of beads. The lazy stitch sections were laid flat against the surface and then sewn down, leaving a beaded design that was uniform and regular. Design elements and background colors were both done in beads, while the background of Woodlands pieces was generally left unbeaded. Some tribes also used spot stitch to cover large areas, a technique that was not used at all in the Woodlands.


In both Plains and Eastern Woodlands beadwork, the earliest designs mimicked quillwork designs of earlier generations. The difference was that early Woodlands beadwork was lacy and open, while that of the plains was done in solid blocks of color. As time went on, the greater variety of bead colors available to beadworkers of the Woodlands, as well as easy access to high-quality needles, sent the designs created by the artists in many different directions. Pieces from the same community could be quite different in appearance, though the forms were generally the same. The years between 1830 and 1870 were especially notable for the huge variety and incredible creativity expressed in the small beaded pouches that became the favored form. After the 1860s, when European floral embroidery designs were introduced, nearly all Woodlands beadwork became rigidly floral to meet the demand of the non-Indian buying public.

With rare exceptions, floral beadwork was never a popular style on the Plains as it was in the Woodlands. Geometric designs were predominant, with each tribe having their own distinctive motifs and styles. The Northern, Central and Southern Plains styles encompassed many tribes, and within these separate regions were numerous tribal variations. Pictorial designs were also not uncommon on the plains, while such elements are extremely rare in Woodlands beadwork.


Though very early Woodlands beadwork was done on deerskin, most 19th Century work was done on fabric and sewn with cotton thread. In contrast, it is uncommon to find a Plains beaded item that is not done on some sort of animal hide, and sewing with sinew was common.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Shop Marks, Hallmarks and Other Marks of Distinction

When Indian silversmiths began to use hallmarks, it made life immensely less complicated for generations of future collectors and dealers. Finally, there was a way for people years away to know exactly who had made something without having to think too hard about it. In some cases, it was even a clue as to when it was made, and where. For those so inclined, it was a wonderful view into the past--a way to view the development of an artist's work over time and space. The only problem is that a book is only as good as the reader, and there are some hallmarks that are not really that at all, but rather shop marks.

A hallmark, by definition, is a mark or device placed or stamped on an article of trade to indicate origin, purity, or genuineness. With jewelry, this has come to mean the particular mark, normally either stamped or engraved, that indicates the individual maker of the piece. An item made in a shop by more than one hand, assembly-line style, will often have the mark associated with that particular shop or company. (Charles Loloma and Preston Monongye both worked this way, having inlay work done by other artists, but the current marketplace accepts these pieces as individually made because they were not done as multiples, as is the case with more modern shop artists like Ray Tracey.) However, there is another kind of shop mark that is distinctive to the Indian Southwest, where an individual artist would make a piece but only mark it with the shop mark. For collectors, this is a dangerous type of mark that can leave itself open to much misunderstanding and false conclusions.

A perfect example is the Thunderbird Shop, Frank Patania Sr.'s establishment in Santa Fe (and later Tucson.) From early in the history of the shop, silver produced there was marked with a stamped thunderbird to indicate its origin. Later, Patania put his own hallmark, a conjoined FP, on to his own pieces along with the thunderbird, while items made by other shop smiths, of whom there were many, would have only the thunderbird shop mark. Since Patania and the other smiths were all working off designs done by Patania, similar work was very common, and often the only true distinction between a Patania piece and a shop smith piece was the presence or absence of the FP. With the passage of time, it has become common for many pieces with just the Thunderbird Shop mark to be attributed to Patania, making them more valuable.

Some shops only used the shop mark, and the individual artists did not use their own hallmark--the Navajo Guild, for example, and the UITA posts. It is impossible to know exactly who made those pieces, but the shop mark serves as a clue to the origin and quality standards that were in place. However, with the Thunderbird (and the White Hogan, in Scottsdale), the shop mark was only part of the information. The accompanying hallmark is the true story, and all collectors and dealers should know how to read it.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Not Old, but Still Cool

Deborah and Steve just returned from our old stomping grounds in Scottsdale, where we had a great week with Bill Bishop at his incredible gallery on Main Street. (If you have never been, put it on your bucket list. His business card says "The planet Earth is well represented in these shops," and it is a totally apt thing to say. Ask him where that saying came from--it is a very cool story.) We also went down to the Heard Market to visit friends (hello to Perry Shorty, Kee Yazzie, Cody Sanderson, Ken Williams, Wes Willie, Jeremy Frey and many others) and to see what was going on in the contemporary market. Some nice things, of course, but did anything stand out? Actually...

The one thing we saw that stood out the most was a bracelet by Earl Plummer, one of the really fine Navajo smiths. It was done in matrixed turquoise, maybe Kingman, and inlaid on a silver cuff was a spiderweb pattern with a domed coral cab in the center. Very reminiscent of Preston Monongye's spider bracelets, but with an inlaid design rather than a cast one. It won an honorable mention for jewelry, which baffled us because we saw no other jewelry that we thought was more deserving--maybe the category winners had already sold, and we never saw them. Whatever the case, it was the best thing we saw at the market, and he sold it later in the day, so congrats to Earl.

Anyone who is interested in seeing really fine and creative silverwork should check out Earl Plummer at the next Indian Market. Turkey Mountain Traders does not represent him, nor do we have any of his pieces for sale; we just like to recognize excellence when we see it, even if there is nothing in it for us.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Funny" silver, which isn't funny at all

Turkey Mountain Traders has exhibited at the High Noon Old West Show in Mesa, Arizona for a very long time, maybe the last twenty years--honestly, we've lost track. Safe to say, long enough to see lots of dealers come and go, and lots of things come through the doors, some great and some not so great. One thing we have been seeing a lot of lately is silver done in the style of old Navajo pieces, but done recently with the intent to deceive. This does not mean the work of Indian smiths like Perry Shorty who work in the old style, nor does it mean pieces by non-Navajo smiths such as Jock Favour and Jesse Robbins, whose work stands on its own. Rather, we're talking about anonymous pieces that are not hallmarked, and are then marketed (either knowingly or unknowingly) as genuine old Navajo pieces. Some of these pieces are simply laughable efforts that would not fool anyone who has read the John Adair book even once. Others are not badly done, but have one or two glaring errors that make them easy to spot. (A commercial bezel or a #8 turquoise on a bracelet from 1910? Really?) But then there are some that are good examples of craftsmanship, and are only distinguishable from the real (old) thing after careful examination. We call these pieces "funny silver", because while there may not be anything immediately obvious that identifies them as fakes, they give us a funny feeling when we first see them. The Mesa show was, unfortunately, full of these to an even greater degree than in years past, so we had ample opportunity to look at some carefully. The main thing we learned? "Funny silver" has a consistent sheen to it, while real old silver tarnishes in some places more than others. Also, "funny silver" can have a pitted look to it, which may be from being treated with an artificial aging agent like propane (seriously!). There may also be signs that certain things have been cast, such as the blossoms on a necklace. That does not mean they are sandcast, which has been done by Navajo smiths for nearly 150 years, but rather spin cast, a method of producing multiple copies from a single original mechanically and at low cost. If every blossom on a necklace has the same sheen and an identical shape, right down to certain surface flaws, then it is likely that the necklace is "funny", or at least the blossoms are. There is a great deal to know about old Navajo silver, and nobody knows everything, but those who take the time to read the books, visit the museums and examine examples that are known to be good carefully can develop their eye to the point where things that are "funny" will become quickly evident. And if a purchase is made, always be certain that the dealer will tell you exactly what you are buying and offer a money-back policy if something turns out to be wrong. Everyone makes mistakes, and the honorable dealers will take the time and money to make it right.