Southwest Find: Fred Harvey Indian Silver
Over the course of the next couple days, I'll be sharing some of my vintage finds from my Southwest road trip. If anyone has any information about their origins, I'd love to learn more!
There was absolutely no way I could visit the Southwest (particularly Santa Fe) and not come home with some turquoise jewelry. Before arriving in New Mexico, I completely underestimated how difficult it would be for me to find a piece to buy! It's not that there weren't things I liked — I fell in love with a lot of pieces. It's just that I (totally uncharacteristically of me) did NO research whatsoever before arriving in NM. I didn't know how much the jewelry should cost, where I should buy it, how to identify the pieces, what to ask, etc… Not being educated about a purchase like this was quite frustrating.
A quick look online indicated that I should ask if the turquoise is "natural," not real. That means it isn't heavily treated with chemicals or other added elements to make it look better, fit better or just seem more like prized turquoise. I'm terribly shy about asking folks about the quality of their goods so there was no way I was going to ask a Native American sitting out in the Plaza of Governors whether their stuff was natural. To complicate matters, treated turquoise isn't *always* a bad thing since it's a gemstone that needs to be stabilize. It's all far more complicated than I can handle on vacation.
That brings me to another point: should I buy jewelry straight from the source, so-to-speak, or from the jewelry stores set up around the plaza? Personally, I thought that buying from a Native American was the right thing to do but I found that I really wasn't drawn to any of the jewelry I saw. Plus (see the note about being shy above), I found it really hard to approach any of the vendors. They were totally nice and approachable but without marked prices, I didn't want to start a conversation that wouldn't end without a purchase. I just didn't want to waste their time.
It turns out I ended up wasting someone's time in a shop and he, in about 20 minutes, told me all about the jewelry that kept on catching my eye: Fred Harvey era Indian silver. It turns out that the type of jewelry that kept on catching my eye during the trip always turned out to be vintage/pawn. I've trained myself to be able to identify the eras of non-Indian costume jewelry — when it came to Native American jewelry, I just didn't know what to look for. So I relied on my taste. As it so happens, the stuff I liked turned out to be the old stuff. Imagine that.
I ended up wasting this shop owner's time because I didn't end up buying the amazing Navajo bracelet from the 1940s that he had in his shop. I was almost ready to buy it at $232, but then he suggested that I check out another store down the block — Shalako Indian Store.
Shalako is tucked in a little indoor mall and if you don't know you're looking for it, you might very well miss it. In my opinion, it had the best assortment of vintage/pawn Indian silver in the entire plaza (maybe Santa Fe, I don't know). At the store I was just at, there were about 10 Fred Harvey era bracelets to choose from. At Shalako's there were at least 75, if not more. I was told by the clerk helping me at Shalako that the owner of the store (or maybe the owner's mother) was a Harvey Girl and that she's been collecting these pieces with a fervor that showed in the display cases. If you, like me, aren't educated about Harvey, check out this history of the man and an article about the jewelry.
I ended up with two items, the bracelet from the first photograph and this road runner brooch. In total, I paid about $10 less ($225) than one bracelet from the other shop would have cost me. I'm sure that if I wasn't in Santa Fe and therefore wasn't as much demand for the jewelry, I could have bought both pieces for less. The price was justified because I loved the jewelry and actually learned quite a lot on the spot. So there you go.