Collectors like items signed by Concho artists

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today's antiques.scott davisWith most of today’s seniors coming from the baby boomer generation, it’s likely that everyone owned one or two pieces of Native American “Indian” jewelry.  After all, it was widely available, beautiful and most important; affordable.

Made primarily by the Navajo and Zuni tribes, the jewelry was among the most economically important products of the Indian nation, and a great deal of jewelry was “exported” from reservations to destinations all around the country and beyond.  Most pieces were simple and crudely made in order to keep prices down, but there were also a number of great Indian silversmiths whose pieces are now considered to be real art.

Virtually all Native American jewelry is made of silver; either sterling silver (925/1000 purity) or 800 silver (800/1000 purity). The purity has little effect on value today. Stones used in the jewelry were usually turquoise or red coral, but many other stones and shells can be found in pieces. All are generally equally valuable unless they are precious stones, which is quite rare.

What you may not know is that the Native American population prized the jewelry themselves and most all tribe members collected it for the purported healing and spiritual powers within the turquoise stones that the jewelry usually incorporated.

By and large, Native Americans kept the very best pieces within their communities. Families also kept silver and turquoise jewelry as a readily liquidatable or tradable asset. Most of the Native American population lived very modestly and tended to earn money seasonally so when money got tight, jewelry was used as collateral against loans from pawn shops until it could be reclaimed. Sometimes people had to relinquish their heirlooms to the pawn broker, at which point the pawn shop would sell the pieces. Items that were originally owned and worn by Native Americans are the most sought after today. Collectors refer to them as “old pawn” pieces.

Today, collectors will pay well into the thousands of dollars for the best old pawn examples of Concho belts, belt buckles, bracelets, rings and earrings. Most important is an artist’s signature. If you have one, show it to an expert before giving it away.

Scott Davis operates Rhode Island Antiques Mall, 345 Fountain St., Pawtucket. Contact him at (401) 475-3400 or

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