Native American Jewelry Hallmarks


Native American jewelry trademarks or hallmarks are the marks on the jewelry that identify the artist. The term refers to the initials and symbols used by a particular artist, but may be the artists whole name. They are usually made by holding a die on the silver and hitting it with a hammer to leave the mark. However the artist's whole name and the name of the tribe are sometimes written with an "electric pencil". As we shall see Native American hallmarks have  had an interesting development.

Native Americans often place more importance on the community than the extreme independence of many Europeons and non-natives is the United States. This, along with Native Americans placing great importance on the power of names, led to some Native Americans resisting the leaving of hallmarks.

In the first phase of Native American jewelry making the Native people only made jewelry for themselves or those in their family or tribe. Thus there was little reason to leave some type of "signature".

After a while some Native Americans began selling their jewelry in the larger towns. This helped boost income from farming and raising of sheep.

In time traders and store owners began buying from the people as middlemen. They sometimes put a mark on the jewelry in the form of an image related to the name of the business. Some Native Americans also began, around the early part of the twentieth century, to sign their work. This was when tourism and interest in the ways of the Native Americans was beginning to grow.

The term itself, "hallmark", came from the trade guilds of the Middle Ages in Europe. After World War II the idea of the guild was adopted with the Navajo and Hopi guilds. These were formed to help Natives American jewelry makers. They promoted the use of the artist's hallmark along with the guild stamp. This also increased the use of hallmarks in general.

During the 1970s interest in Native American art peaked. Collectors also became interested in the artist's themselves. This encouraged the use of individual hallmarks much more. Usually the hallmark was on the back of the piece, but sometimes it was even made a part of the design itself.

Some Native Americans tend to think of hallmarks as their property which they can lend or give to family members or others. Though this is understandable, it creates problems for collectors trying to decide who made a piece they are purchasing. This along with other factors such as artists changing their hallmarks, artists having the same initials, hallmarks not being clearly stamped and other problems show that hallmarks are not an exact science. Besides this counterfeiters sometimes copy hallmarks on items not made by Native Americans. The fact remains however that many times the hallmark is the best proof a given piece is made by a given artist.

To maximize chances of buying an authentic piece it is good to consult experienced people who look at the hallmarks along with things like where the piece was bought, quality of work and materials, artist's style etc. Good books have also been written to better organize.

The development of Native American jewelry hallmarks has been an interesting one. The future of the area promises to continue drawing fascination.