For years pawn was an essential element of the Navajo economy. It served a dual purpose. First, because trading posts had secure vaults, many families put their jewelry in pawn for safekeeping. When they needed something for a special event, they would take the item out of pawn and then return it following the event. With most traders this was a service for their customers and they did not charge for storage. Second, a person could bring in a piece of jewelry, saddle, gun, basket, Pendleton blanket, etc. and borrow money using the item as collateral. Unlike a bank, the trader took physical possession of the item until it was redeemed. Many families used specific items for this function and regularly pawned and then redeemed the items. Baskets were pawned until the fall ceremony season as well rifles for fall hunting. Saddles were pawned after the summer rodeo season. If the time lapsed before redemption, most traders just extended the terms because of appreciation for their customers business. Contrary to common belief, pawn jewelry is not necessarily prime quality because the families did not let their prized pieces go "dead" - meaning available for sale by the trader to recoup his costs.
Pawn had a drastic disruption in the 70s. The government legal agency had been trying to outlaw pawn on the reservation citing that it facilitated "imprisoning" families to their trading post with no off-reservation alternatives. The catalyst to the change occurred with an armed robbery of Mexican Water Trading Post. The trader, Don Reeves, was a well-respected trader among both is customers and those in outlying areas. His pawn vault was loaded with top quality jewelry that was pawned by families for safe-keeping. One evening prior to closing three armed men entered the trading post, took all of the vault contents, and locked the employees in the vault. The employees were not found until the next day. In keeping with his integrity, Don spent years replacing jewelry and reimbursing his customers. It was a devastating event for all concerned.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs in conjunction with the legal aid group (DNA) banned pawn activity on the Navajo Reservation. It was the most disruptive economic event that happened to the Navajos until several years later when the BIA banned trading on the reservation. The reasoning was that traders were making economic prisoners of their client sby depriving them the option of taking their business elsewhere.
Pawn activity then moved to the border towns like Gallup, Farmington, Flagstaff, and Winslow. However, the rules changed for the Navajos because interest could be charged at a higher rate and there was no obligation for the pawn broker to show favoritism by keeping jewelry beyond expiration. This opened up a whole new market for Indian jewelry- pawn jewelry.
The pawn items offered here were not family heirlooms, rather collateral that went un-redeemed. While I did not take pawn, I traded for a great amount. The most common trade item for pawn was Zuni cluster jewelry and coral necklaces. Unless otherwise noted, the turquoise in most pawn is either stabilized or treated in traditional Santo Domingo process of soaking in mutton tallow. Such turquoise is always lower grade and softer to better absorb the mutton oil. It does not change the geological qualities, only the color. Enlarged photos are available upon request.
Pawn Necklace Flat Turquoise Beads $79
Zuni Inlay Mickey Mouse Earrings
Made in early 80s $150 SOLD
Pawn Necklace 1 strand
Heshe & Flat Turquoise $98
1 strand Turq Nuggets. $75
1-tr Turq & Heshe $79
Pawn Necklace Turquoise Beads
Pawn Necklace 5-str Turq & Liquid Silver
Pawn Necklace 2-str Turq & White Heshe
Pawn Necklace $80
4 strands White Heshe, Turq & Shell
Santo Domingo Multicolor Made in the 80s. $69
Fetish Necklace Navajo made in the 80s by Angela Tsosie. $90
Fetish Necklace Navajo made in the 80s by Angela Tsosie. Turquoise heshe. $75
Catlinite (pipestone) heshe Santo Domingo. Fine heshe with turquoise beads. $295
Zuni Inlay Mickey Mouse Pendant Made in early 80s $225
Zuni Needlepoint Interlocking Bracelets made by Hugh and Agnes Bowekaty in the early 80s. The bracelets can be mixed and matched. Small sizes (4") Stones include Mother of Pearl, Ivory, Jet, and Turquoise. $275 each except turquoise
Turquoise $295 each
Turquoise Beads w/ earrings High grade and finely matched spiderweb. $1.800
Turquoise Beads High grade, finely matched spiderweb. $1,200
Heshe Spiny Oyster w/14K Chain & Findings
Beautifully matched and cut with 14K inserts Navajo handmade. $1,695
Fetish Necklace made by Ronnie Upshaw in the 70s. Ronnie had the skill for fine carving; remarkable with these small bears, realizing that he weighed over 300 pounds and had hands like hams. $395
Coral Necklace I used to trade coral necklaces. This is the best one that I ever had. Coral beads of this size are seldom seen these days. There are handmade silver tube beads. The jaclo is rare because it is made with natural turquoise and spiny oyster. The wrap was done at Santo Domingo in the traditional style. $6,000
Navajo Belt Hangar Worn as decorative hanger from belt. Belt fits through folded loop. Sterling silver conchos (4) and sterling silver buttons (9). Unusual piece. 17" $798
Inlayed Letter Opener In the 1940s my dad began a revolution in the Indian jewelry business. For years there was a clear distinction between Navajo and Zuni silversmiths. He began to combine the work of both tribes.by having a Navajo silversmith create a piece to which a Zuni inlayer could apply his or her talents. Because there was no electricity in the Navajo country until the late 80s, there was little Navajo inlay work. I my opinion there was no better team than Navajo silversmith Mary Morgan and Zuni silversmith Lambert Homer. In 2015 Mary is celebrating her 93rd year. Lambert was the premier Zuni inlayer from the 40s to the 70s. He was also a true gentleman. I had regular contact with him for 30 years and never once heard a complaint of cross word from him. He passed away in the late 70s. When he died, we were unaware because the burial ceremony of the Zunis is very soon after death. We got a call from a family member asking if we were coming to his burial ceremony. They were holding up the ceremony until we arrived. We immediately drove to Zuni to be part of his passing. Lambert's work is highly prized by collectors. This unusual sterling silver piece was created by Mary and then Lambert set all of the stones. It was made in the 60s. $1,200