Navajo coin silver jewelry is the jewelry made when the Navajo first began making silver jewelry in the late 19th century. The Navajo got silver coins from the U.S. Calvary and the trading posts. The Navajo melted them down into ingots and other silver forms. They then would hand forge or hammer the silver into jewelry such as bracelets, hatbands, and "ketohs" or wrist bow guards. Navajo coin silver jewelry often had some faint residual impressions from the coin design. Navajo coin silver jewelry is very collectable and has a beauty of its own.
The Navajo coin silver jewelry was made by melting silver pieces together in an open pit fire or a blacksmith forge with bellows. The bellows blew air on the fire to make it hot enough to melt silver solder, which laminated their silver jewelry designs together. Navajo coin silver jewelry refers to the alloy which came about from the melting of coins. The coin silver used in Navajo coin silver jewelry has less silver than sterling silver (90% as compared to 92.5% in sterling). However since it is older and hand hammered, the coin silver jewelry might be even more valuable then jewelry made from sterling silver.
Navajo coin silver jewelry was originally made primarily with U..S. coins such as U.S. silver dollars, fifty cent pieces, quarters and dimes. These and old metal wagon and harness fillings were melted down and hammered as there was such a lack of raw material. When in 1890 a U.S. law made defacing a U.S. coin illegal, Mexican pesos were used. The pesos had been used along side U.S. coins before, but were used pretty much used exclusively at that point. Their silver content was a little higher than U.S. coins, and that made them softer and easier to hand hammer. Thus they were actually preferred to U.S. coins by some of the early silversmiths. However in 1930, the Mexican coins were forbidden to be exported to the American Southwest. In the 1930s sterling silver in sheets and wire became available, which have been used by Native American jewelers to the present. This brought an end to the making of Navajo coin silver jewelry.
Most of the time vintage Navajo coin silver jewelry was actually a "blend". They might have been mostly Mexican coins with a few U.S. coins thrown in. Or they might have been mostly sterling silver with a few U.S. coins thrown in. Or they were another variation! Therefore the exact silver content varies widely in vintage Navajo coin silver jewelry. The variation, however, has not lessened the popularity of Navajo coin silver jewelry.
As was stated, Navajo coin silver jewelry gave way to using the sheets and wire of sterling silver. Jewelry made with the sterling silver was lighter and more wearable than the early Navajo coin silver jewelry. Navajo coin silver jewelry ,however, remained prized and continues to be to this day. This jewelry has a beauty of its own. The early hand forged or hammered coin silver jewelry marks a time in the development of Native American jewelry, and to have some of this jewelry is to hold a bit of history!