Part 2: Southwest Jewelry from the Private Collection of a Major Dealer/Collector

  • Live Online Auction: Sunday, February 12, at 2:30 pm PDT
  • Online Preview: Through February 12

Turner Auctions + Appraisals is very pleased to offer Part 2 of the private collection of Southwest jewelry from a major dealer/collector.  The extensive, multi-part sale features Native American works from the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi.  Part 1 was sold in November to great success; other parts, offering Southwest and Western jewelry and artwork, will be sold later this year.  Offerings in Part 2 include coin or sterling silver jewelry (bracelets, rings, necklaces – often embellished with turquoise, coral, gold or coins); watch cuffs and watch bands; belts, belt buckles and caps; ketos; money clips; bolo ties; a silver desk set; and a David Spellerbery sculpture.

The owner of this 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.  All auction items are “from the vault” – 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 heavy, solid silver – either coin or sterling silver; embellished with gem-quality turquoise or coral stones, gold or coins; and elaborate hand-cut bezels.  The majority were crafted by talented artists; many are maker-stamped. Some items are vintage ceremonial pieces; many are museum-quality.  None of the pieces have 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 – the finest examples of handwork they could find.  (See below for more about the collector and this collection.)

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More About the Southwest Collection and the Collector

The owner of this 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 and working all his life, the owner is ready to retire – from his business, his collection and his numerous possessions – and kick back a bit.  As he says, “I have greatly enjoyed collecting for my business and myself.  And now it’s time for someone else to do the same.”

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, bringing 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 collection 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 pow wows.