If you love fine vintage Native American jewelry and shop for it online often you have probably noticed by now that there are hundreds of “fake and faux jewelry” sellers using Ebay to hawk their wares.
Asian “knock-offs” have been a problem for American retailers as well as e-tailers like Ebay for decades. Fake, artificially produced ‘faux’ knock-offs of CDs, software, leather goods, cologne, designer tennis shoes, apparel, handbags and hundreds of other retail products coming out of China are now costing American businesses billions of dollars in losses every year.
The growing deluge into the American jewelry retail market of these artificially made, non-authentic fake ‘Native American’ made pieces has confused younger less experienced jewelry customers who don’t know how to recognize the real thing from the artificial counterfeit. It’s a tragedy to see someone pay more than $200 for a cuff or ring which has no silver and no real gemstones in it. If they ever need to resell the item, they quickly find out it’s practically worthless. REAL Native American vintage jewelry will APPRECIATE OVER TIME. This is called INVESTMENT GRADE vintage jewelry and it’s worth the price paid to acquire it.
Compounding the problem of “fake vs. real” Native American made jewelry is the fact that some modern Native American made jewelry is actually “factory sourced” out of North American Indian reservations and manufactured by poor working Indians, so it is definitely “legally” Native American made – but it is quickly and cheaply made on homespun production lines to imitate the grander more refined Fred Harvey era pieces of the past, using ultra thin sheets of cheap silver alloy – or even nickel silver [ a non-silver metal alloy which shines like silver but has absolutely no silver content ] combined with plastic resin artificially made molded [ faux ] turquoise in jewelry designs which are copycats of the very fine authentic jewelry pieces made by Native Americans between the late 1800s and the late 1970s.
Sadly Ebay is loaded with sellers which are selling these North American made knock-off pieces, which they can legally state are “Native American made” but are of such inferior quality that the piece, especially if it’s a cuff, will fall apart in a few years. Buyer beware. If you find a huge cuff which is very very lightweight [ check the gram weight ] and the metal in it shines oddly – almost looking like polished chrome, and if you see the phrases “nickel silver” or “resin turquoise” used to describe the listing, odds are you might be very disappointed with this jewelry item as time goes by. If it’s a cuff or large ring, and it rattles when you shake it, as the plastic gems were just barely placed into their bezels, the piece is not real. Once the composite plastic resin faux gemstones begin to fall out of the piece, or it becomes quickly very misshapen after wearing it for a few weeks, a very large but cheap faux Native made cuff begins to prove the point that “you get what you pay for.”
Truthfully, it’s better to pay a little more for an authentic Native American made item which has been made with pride, generational talent using real gold, silver and gemstones than to waste your money on cheap knock-offs just to save a few bucks.
What exactly is “Old Pawn?”
A peer in the old pawn jewelry trade has described the phrase “Old Pawn” this way:
“As used in the pawn trade, the terms “old” or dead” pawn have absolutely nothing to do with the age or vintage of any particular item. A pawn item goes “dead” or becomes “old” when the person who pawned the item does not pay off their loan on the item in the stated amount of time mandated by state law. At the point the item goes dead it becomes the property of the pawnbroker, who then usually offers it for sale to the public. Native American jewelry can be and is pawned in any and all vintages including brand new for a variety of reasons.”
Others in the vintage jewelry trade have also used the term “old pawn” to describe Native American jewelry made, bought and sold during the mid 20th century period which was the height of fine Native American jewelry making in the American southwest. Some refer to this period [ Early 1900s through late 1970s] as the “Fred Harvey” era.
Who was Fred Harvey and what was the Fred Harvey era?
Here’s some interesting historical background on Fred Harvey: [ See http://www.canyonroadarts.com/links/Fred%20Harvey%20Co.html ]
|No organization had a greater impact on the American southwest as the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Company. In fact, these companies practically “invented” the image of the southwest that Americans have today. The Fred Harvey Company promoted a “kinder-gentler” image of skilled artisans and colorful, peaceful, Indian cultures, instead of wild Indians, cowboys, and buffalos of the 19th century.The Fred Harvey of Santa Fe Railway pioneered innovative marketing techniques that are still in use today in the travel industry. The Santa Fe could have called their trains the Stockyard Limited or the Wyatt Earp special. However, they chose exotic names from the southwest such as the Super Chief or the El Capitan. These names appeared on advertising posters throughout America with images of Navajo or Hopi Indians working on crafts of the southwest.Few people today realize the impact the Fred Harvey Company had on Indian arts and crafts. Most people are familiar with the Fred Harvey Company’s involvement with food, lodging, and the Harvey Girls. But few are aware of the Fred Harvey Company’s involvement in the “curio” trade and even more astonishing, the impact on museum collections.“Minni” Harvey, Fred Harvey’s daughter, and Herman Schweizer, a German immigrant, became one of the largest collectors of American Indian art in the world. Herman Schweizer came to America from Germany on September 12, 1885. He traveled to Chicago where he met relatives and friends, then, on to Los Angeles. For a time, he worked for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later to become the Santa Fe Railroad) as a newsboy. However, Herman’s claim to fame with the Harvey Company came just after he had been appointed in charge of the Coolidge New Mexico eating house on the Santa Fe Railroad. In his spare time, Herman had roamed the Navajo and Hopi reservation in search of trinkets or curios to sell at the Coolidge restaurant. Minni Harvey was aware of the popularity of Herman’s curios at the Coolidge restaurant and encouraged him to expand his curios to other Harvey establishments. With Minni Harvey urging and Ford Harvey’s support, the company took on the Indian Curio Trade and established the Fred Harvey Indian Department in 1901. Even though H. L. Hunkel (Minni Harvey’s husband) was in charge of the Indian Department and lived in Kansas City, Herman Schweizer was the Harvey’s man to get things done when the Indian Department opened their building at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque in 1902. Herman was the “boss” in the southwest. Schweizer had spent over 16 years in the southwest and had developed an extensive network of personal relationships and business dealings. Furthermore, he had been hiring Navajo and Hopi craftsmen through a trading post in Thoreau, New Mexico to create Indian jewelry for the Harvey Company.
Herman created the Harvey style Indian bracelet. He found that the large turquoise nugget bracelet did not find favor with the Victorian traveler. He had the Indian craftsmen reduce the size of the traditional silver pieces that would appeal more to the traveling tourist and would better fit eastern dress styles.
Herman Schweizer spent most of his time with the Harvey Company developing the Indian Building in Albuquerque and building networks of the curio trade for the Harvey Company. Perhaps, one could easily say that almost every trader in the southwest was on contract or employed by the Fred Harvey Company at any one time during the history of the company.
Herman did not stop at curios but began buying collections from the various traders to showcase in the Indian Building in Albuquerque. For over five years, Herman engaged in acquiring the finest of the southwest Indian art. The author, Frank Waters, indicated the “F. H. Indian Building at the Santa Fe Station in Albuquerque New Mexico was equal to any modern museum and all transcontinental passenger trains were stopped there for thirty miniutes.”
The early years of the 1900s was a period of great international expositions. Such opportunity was not lost to Herman Schweizer and the Fred Harvey Company at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase World’s Fair in St. Louis, the 1915 fairs at San Francisco and San Diego. The company saw the opportunity to promote travel and showcase Indian crafts of the southwest. Nampeyo, Maria Martinez, Fred Kobotie, Elle of Ganado were just a few of the Indian artists the Fred Harvey Company promoted at the world’s fairs to millions of Americans.
Indian Detour Bus, Santa Clara Pueblo, c. 1926
Although Herman Schweizer was known as the “Fred Harvey anthropologist,” he did not have the credentials of a true anthropologist. To establish legitimacy of the Harvey activities, Schweizer formed a business association with George A. Dorse, curator of Anthropology at the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago. Throughout the early part of the 20th century, the Harvey Company purchased and sold major Indian art collections to collectors and Museums in the United States. Almost every major museum East of the Mississippi river acquired at least a few southwest ethnographic items from the Harvey Company.
The post World War II era changed the company drastically. Automobile availability and new transcontinental highways meant the Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad no longer had complete control of travelers to the American southwest. The new highways did not pass by the Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels. Ford Harvey died in 1926, John F. Hunkel in 1936, and Herman Schweizer in 1943. By 1946, the Harvey Company no longer had unlimited funds to purchase private art collections and the great era of collecting ethnographic materials virtually came to an end. However, the company still controlled the vast amount of the items they had collected over their forty years of operations.
Interior Fred Harvey Store, Alvarado Hotel, Albuquerque, NM, c. 1905
Byron Harvey III, born in 1932, was the great-grandson of Fred Harvey, Sr. He attened Harvard and University of Chicago and completed a degree in anthropology at the University of New Mexico in 1960. Byron always had a strong interest in American Indian art and ethnographic materials. He took up the challenge of identifying information on the Fred Harvey collection that had been lost from the time of Herman Schweizer. Furthermore, he helped to shape the future of the Harvey Indian Art Collection begun in 1902. He helped organize the Fred Harvey Fine Arts Foundation in 1969, and gave much of his personal time and support to museums throughout the country. Byron was on the Harvey Foundation board when it donated over 4,000 items to the Heard Museum. Today, a large part of the Harvey collection resides at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
With increased interest in Indian Art and ethnographic material these days, the Harvey Fine Art Collection continues to inspire scholars, collectors, and the general public. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery is pleased to offer for sale ethnographic material and Indian arts from the great Fred Harvey era.
Fake vs. Real Turquoise: What You Should Know
During the early years of the Fred Harvey period of high art in Native American jewelry design, North American turquoise mines were producing a plethora of high quality turquoise gemstone material. A list of some of these well known mines can be found here:
Native American jewelry which was made between the 1930s and the late 1970s tends overall to have turquoise gemstones in it which are far superior to much of what is being mined today. That’s because the period between the late 1920s and the late 1970s predates the great incoming wave of fake Native American jewelry and fake gemstones from Asia. The modern popular demand for high quality “Fred Harvey” era authentic Native American made jewelry has brought about a large influx of artificially manufactured fake jewelry, much of it from China which is making it difficult at times for sellers of authentic pieces to differentiate themselves and their trade from a tsunami of cheap factory made fakes.
If you really prefer to invest your money in authentic vintage Native American jewelry, then expect to pay a little bit more for what you buy and choose jewelry which does not contain “composite plastic resin” artificial turquoise and / or cheap imitation chrome-like metal alloys that only imitate sterling silver. Nickel silver has no silver content.
Plastic Resin turquoise is fake gemstone material which is completely artificial. It’s also referred to as “faux” turquoise. It’s found in fake Native American jewelry and much of it is manufactured out of Asia, specifically China.
COMPOSITE or “Block” turquoise is made by taking the cutaway leftovers of the natural turquoise cutting process, small bits, pieces & powder, refuse – then grinding, mixing and re-heating these gem cutting table leftovers with epoxy glue at high temperatures. The resulting cooked gem material is uniform in color and can be cut and polished to any shape just as natural stones.There are some nice jewelry pieces being made with “block” gem material, but it holds far less collector value than the authentic hand mined turquoise gem material.
The current popular trade in composite turquoise Native American sterling silver jewelry is not meant to be deceptive or misleading. One large aspect of the trade is the fact that stones of uniform color have always been preferred by the majority of Navajo and Zuni women and girls, a little known fact. There are other economic factors as well. There is a large, legitimate trade in this type of turquoise jewelry in the Southwest and it has been around for a very long time. Native Americans living on reservations have to keep their jewelry trades alive, and many jewelry makers do use composite gems in their work. It’s an accepted practice. The demand for turquoise in the 21st century is so great that many of the older gem mines are now tapped out, and in each generation there is less and less high grade gem material being mined from some of these older turquoise mines, thus composite turquoise is used to meet the demand. You might think of composite turquoise as “recycled” gemstone material made beautiful again by heat.
A peer in the jewelry trade put it this way:
“Very attractive and expensive jewelry is created with composite. Very unattractive and cheap jewelry as well. For obvious economic reasons, the pawn shops of the Southwest are well stocked with jewelry pieces set with composite turquoise. It’s a matter of personal taste and value.”
AUTHENTIC NATURAL turquoise is mined from a bonafied turquoise gemstone mine, cut, polished and finished by a qualified jewelry designer / gemstone cutter. It’s important to note that many differing shades and hues of color can be sourced out of the same gemstone turquoise mine. Lander turquoise, for example, can range in color from pale cream blue-white, to grey, to grey-white, to deep indigo blue.
Here are some photos of turquoise which has been mined out of the Lander County Nevada region:
Truthfully speaking, it is very difficult to identify exactly which mine a particular piece of turquoise gemstone may have come from originally, but the most popular and prolific turquoise mines of recent years have included:
Blue Gem Turquoise
Sleeping Beauty Turquoise
Indian Mountain Turquoise
Dry Creek Turquoise
For more information on North American turquoise and mines see http://gosw.about.com/od/artscraftsandshopping/a/turquoise.htm
Dating Old Native American Jewelry
Most of the pieces in my current collection date from the 1930s-40s through the late 1980s, and on occasion I also acquire more modern pieces as well. I do my very best to date pieces accurately, to help my customers have a broad selection of items from which to choose. I definitely focus on the mid 20th century Fred Harvey period, [ 1938-1973] rather than the early Fred Harvey, [ 1900 – 1929 ] as aesthetically I just feel many of the early Fred Harvey pieces are too primitive and clunky, and their advanced age renders them more favorable as museum pieces rather than practical and appealing wearable jewelry. A case in point was the sale I made of a late 1800s very early piece of Native American made jewelry, a primitive Thunderbird pendant, to a buyer who was very disappointed with the color, dark grey patina, and the advanced age of the piece when she received it. For her it was not wearable and she stung my Ebay account with one of the very few negative feed-backs I have ever received. So I now veer away from the very very old antique pieces [ 90 to 100 years old ] and focus more on the mid 20th century material which is spectacularly beautiful and will remain wearable for generations to come if cared for properly.
More Native American Jewelry Trivia
Most Native American jewelry makers did not begin to sign their work until the late 60s / early 1970s, [ with certain exceptions ] when demand for Native American made sterling and turquoise jewelry began to explode. Believe it or not, the late 1960s Hippie Revolution in America had much to do with the popularization of vintage Native American jewelry. Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos New Mexico were all absolute hubs of counter-culture activity for the Love Generation flower children of the late 1960s and early 70s, and as the population of Northern New Mexico became swollen with the tide of wandering hippies, so did their culture of personal adornment with elaborate jewelry.
During the late Fred Harvey period the folks who were buying the most Native American made jewelry off the reservations and the street vendors on the Santa Fe Plaza were the American hippy children who were traveling between the east coast, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Fe. When they showed up in Height-Ashbury adorned to the gills with sparkling fantastic Native American made sterling and turquoise squash blossom necklaces, rings, cuffs and pendants, it created an immediate fashion sensation which has never really abated.
What Seattle did for flannel, Santa Fe and the American West Coast did for vintage authentic Native American jewelry: these regions gave it a permanent place in the wardrobe of everyday Americans, from doctors and lawyers to soccer moms and college kids. Native American made jewelry has become beloved by Americans in a way that other types and styles of jewelry have not. It is the most imitated and copied type of jewelry in the world. And for very good reason.
I hope this page has helped my customers learn more about Native American jewelry and how to make a good selection when investing in a little piece of American history that can be treasured for generations to come.
Leigh at Cherokee Blue Trading Post
Links for further reading: