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A very beautiful and rare Navajo coin-silver

and turquoise belt buckle, c.1910-20

This buckle is a very rare bird indeed, something one does not see very often. This is a piece constructed entirely from hand-hammered silver coins. When this buckle was made, silver coins, American or Mexican, were a very valuable commodity in Navajoland, one of the only certain ways to acquire highly-desired hard goods such as coffee, cigarettes and canned foods. The Navajo economy essentially revolved around trading for what one needed and actual hard silver currency was extremely difficult to come by so to take your valued silver coins and turn them into a piece of jewelry meant that you cared quite a bit about that piece of jewelry and made it with the expectation that you would be able to sell or trade it for something of much greater value than the materials and effort with which you had made it or that you had made it for a very special person, friend or relative and/or for a special purpose, to mark a significant occasion such as an important birthday or for wearing in a ceremony.

The use of silver coins is an indicator of an early age of the piece, but it is also fairly rare in classic Navajo silversmithing. Mostly, when silver coins were used to make jewelry they were first melted into an ingot “slug” and then hammered out to make jewelry or the molten silver was cast into a tufa mold in which the jewelry piece was formed. Heating and hammering out the coins themselves directly is an extremely difficult technique particularly for a larger piece such as this buckle and requires meticulous attention. The process can be clearly seen in the several visible fold marks where coins were hammered into and folded over each other and in the presence of remnants of a couple small sections of the old coin edges which are still slightly visible in the silver surface of the buckle. This is quite a rare instance in Navajo silver terminology; there is the much more commonly occuring “ingot-silver” which refers to any silver which is cast, there is “coin ingot-silver” which is silver cast from melted coins and then worked and finally there is “coin-silver” such as this piece, which is not cast from melted-down silver coins or cast at all, but hammered out and formed from its original individual silver coin components. For a more detailed discussion of these various techniques, please click here.

The design of the buckle is pure, traditional, classic Navajo; a four-part design scheme executed with spare, restrained stampwork and chiseled designs on a broad field of silver made with few and simple stamps and chisels, but done with beautiful economy and aesthetic standards. The four turquoise stones one at each corner of the buckle, set in old-style “foldover” type silver bezels are small and perfectly used to great effect in keeping with and emphasizing the extreme rarity of turquoise stones available in Navajoland at the time and again stressing the significance of this piece of jewelry in using four stones for it when it could just as easily been made with plain silver alone. Interestingly, the stones appear to be Persian turquoise which is also in keeping with the age and rarity of the buckle.

As we previously mentioned, American turquoise was in very short supply in the early years of the 20th century and thus used sparingly, so enterprising Indian traders such as J.L. Hubbell supplied Navajo silversmiths with fine Persian turquoise or specially-made glass substitutes imported from Europe. The scale and size of the buckle is also somewhat old-style in nature being large and generous, perhaps made originally to be on a classic second-phase style concho belt or as a stand-alone piece, but again completely in keeping with the fact that it was made to be an important and very noticeable piece. In Navajo culture, the personal wearing and display of one’s jewelry is a major source of individual, family and clan pride and it is done on every significant occasion, from family shopping trips into town to participating in ceremonial dances and sings to attending the various annual Navajo Nation fairs from Window Rock to Shiprock to Tuba City.

The buckle measures a very nice-sized 3 1/4” in width and 2 1/2” in height. It weighs 49 grams or 1 3/4 ounces and will accept a belt strap of up to 7/8” in width. The buckle is in excellent original condition, particularly for its age with some degree of desirable age-appropriate wear. It has a beautiful soft patina from this use and wear and it displays the lovely bright “whitish” color characteristic of coin-silver.

This piece is the real deal, the genuine article, the “kind”. Give yourself or someone you love a truly historic gift with lasting beauty and value. In Navajo culture, the ideal way to live is to “Walk in beauty” accompanied by peace and harmony. Wearing a beautiful buckle such as this one as you go about your day might help you approach that exalted state. Please note that the leather belt pictured here is for photographic purposes only and is

not included in the sale of the buckle.

Price $1,950

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Some of the types of  historic silver coins that would have been used to make this buckle.