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Southwest Jewelry from the Private Collection of a Major Dealer/Collector

  • Live Online Auction: Sunday, December 4, at 1:00 pm PDT
  • Online Preview: Through December 4

Turner Auctions + Appraisals is pleased to offer the private collection of Southwest jewelry from a major dealer/collector. The extensive sale will be held in several parts:  Part 1 features 200 top-quality Native American works from the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi. Offerings include bracelets, squash blossom and other necklaces, rings, belt buckles, watch bands, earrings, ketos and more for men, women and children. Parts 2 and 3, to be offered in 2017, feature Western jewelry and artworks.  

The owner of the collection was a major dealer and collector of Navajo, Zuni and Hopi jewelry in Southern California for over 30 years. From the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, he operated a retail business that sold vintage, contemporary and custom Southwest jewelry to movie studios, prop and costume houses, and collectors. Some items have been in his possession since the 1960s. All items at auction are “from the vault,” he says – ones that were reserved for personal use or set aside for future appreciation. 

Everything in the collection is original and hand-made. Most items are crafted of solid silver – either sterling or coin silver (“as heavy as we could get it”), embellished with gem-quality turquoise stones, some from mines now closed, and elaborate hand-cut bezels. The majority were crafted by talented artists; many are maker-stamped. Some are vintage ceremonial pieces; other contemporary pieces feature gold enhancements. Many are museum-quality items suitable, not only for wearing, but for display as wall-hangings or in shadow boxes. None of the pieces has color-enhanced stones, or are plated with silver or nickel. Overall, the owner’s quest was to obtain top-quality items that were out of the ordinary – specifically, “the finest examples of handwork we could find.”

The items in the collection range from the 1950s to about 1990, plus ones from the 1920s and 1930s during the “Harvey House period.” (One route of the Santa Fe Railway – officially named the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway – went southwest from Chicago to Southern California through New Mexico, Arizona and other states. Beginning in 1878, at numerous railroad stops, Fred Harvey built Harvey House restaurants, which brought good food at reasonable prices to the traveling public throughout the Southwest for nearly a century. In fact, because of the indigenous jewelry they offered train travelers, it can be said that Harvey Houses – considered America’s first restaurant chain – introduced Indian art to America, which became extremely popular with tourists as superb souvenirs of their trips to the Old West.) 

Jewelry in the upcoming auctions was acquired in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada from the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi – each with a distinctive style. Many of the Native American jewelry makers for Harvey House were farmers who, during down time in the winter, made jewelry for shops to supplement their income. Other items were acquired from the makers themselves or their families. Some were obtained through trading posts or itinerant sellers; that is, representatives of various tribes who would stop at dealers to show and sell new wares. Other inventory was obtained from the vault of Tobe Turpen, Jr., a long-time trader who sold his Gallup, NM, store in the mid-1990s. Some were obtained from trading posts and reservation pawn shops:  many Native Americans, having nowhere to store their valuables, would go to pawn shops near their reservations for items’ safekeeping, then redeem them later on. Some items became “dead pawn” – items sold after they had gone to pawn and were never redeemed, for one reason or another. The collection also features a few items from Plains or Northern Indians, which had been traded among tribes at powwows.

The owner of the collection grew up in the Southwest in the 1950s. Back then, the desert town he lived in (which had ballooned from 8,400 in 1940 to about 25,000 in 1950 and over 64,000 in 1960) was still filled with purveyors of Native American and Western wares. Then, like now, jewelry for Indians was a store of value and status, along with sheep and horses. So with his background, contacts and interest in the Old West, the owner launched his own Southwest jewelry business in Southern California in the mid-1970s. At the time, there were few competitors, he says; in the era’s collegial environment, shops would send customers to other stores to find the specialties they wanted.

Now, after 40 years, the owner is ready to retire – from his business, his collection and his numerous possessions. As he says, “I’ve worked all my life and am ready to kick back a bit. I’ve greatly enjoyed collecting for my business and myself. And now it’s time for someone else to do the same.”

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