Wednesday, September 7, 2016


I started a new collection of sorts (like I needed another), this summer...Bell Trading Post copper jewelry.  These pieces are all from the 1930's to late 1950's, dated through the hallmarks found on the backs of each piece.  All Indian-made, for tourists of the time.  Still to be found, readily - these all came from antique stores in the Denver area.  Still affordable, if you search out the right deals - nothing here cost me over $32.00 (three were under $15), though it's all worth more.
Bell Trading Company was founded in Albuquerque, NM in 1932.  Native American artisans were employed by the trading post to make jewelry for tourists (often behind windows where you could actually watch them at work) along the Route 66 corridor of the American Southwest.  Copper was a big selling point for a lot of this touristy jewelry, due to low cost in manufacturing.  It's actually come full circle in recent years, with many of today's Native American jewelers turning back to working with copper and brass due to high silver prices.  Today's current metal prices:  
Copper -  $2.10/lb.
Silver - $19.79 oz.
Yeah - THAT'S why!
The turquoise in the butterfly bracelet is a synthetic, made using a type of epoxy and ground turquoise dust.  Sterling silver jewelry items were also produced (as well as nickel silver pieces, which were more along the price lines of the copper), but the copper made for a line of jewelry that was well affordable to tourists seeking out real, Indian-made items.  Copper was also touted as an arthritis relief remedy - then AND today, with so many athletes turning to copper lined clothing, necklaces, etc.
Bell's competition, at the time, was Maisel's Trading Post - also in Albuquerque.  The two businesses merged in 1935, and Maisel's is still going strong today - MAISEL'S
Wondering where your piece is from?  As in my post about authentic Indian jewelry, flip it over and look for a "hallmark".  These all have the Bell symbol from the time period of the 1930s and the late 1950s.  Sometime in the 60's the symbol was changed to an arrow with a hanging sign below it, and later, to a "Sunbell".

One of the "drawbacks" of copper jewelry (as anyone who was a child in the 50s/60s and had a copper ring or bracelet can tell you), is that it WILL turn your skin green.  Skin is easily washable. Whoever owned a few of these pieces actually shined them up before selling them.  I'm one who would rather have the patina, but it's all a matter of personal preference.  These will patina again, over time (they neglected to get the inside, where you see the green).
The Indian Trading Posts found throughout the SW were originally places of trade - the tribal artisans would bring items in for just  Many of the posts also dealt with pawned items, giving the Indians money to hold their pawned jewelry, saddles, blankets, etc., and selling it once the items went "dead" - meaning they were no longer wanted or retrieved by the owners.  Today's trading posts work in the same fashion, though the artisan items are usually sold to the shops now.  Clockwise from upper left - Cameron Trading Post, Cameron, AZ;  Perry Null Trading Post, Gallup, NM; Santo Domingo Indian Owned Trading Post, Old Towne Albuquerque, NM; Jackies Trading Post, Taos, NM; Tuba Trading Post, Tuba City, AZ.
The top bracelet is done in the "Repousse" style, meaning the large raised designs were hammered into the piece from the backside - it is 1.75" wide, and cost me a ridiculously low price...SO low.  The butterfly is 1.5" wide, and soldered to a full split shank bracelet - again, the turquoise is faux, but every piece here is, indeed, Indian made - and heavy copper.  This one cost me $32.00.  The two smaller bracelets?  One was $6.00 and the other, $10.  And, OK...the large one up top ran me $12 - fabulous antique store finds, and a great starting point for those wanting to get into collecting some beautiful pieces with a little Route 66 history behind them, at affordable prices.
Richards Trading Post in Gallup, NM - these cases shown hold old pawn pieces for sale, as well as being backed by a wall of pawned saddles.
On my newer copper pieces, I have protected the fronts of my bracelets with painter's tape, and sprayed a light coat of polyurethane on the inside, to lessen my arm turning green - it does work for awhile (depending on how hot the day is and how much my arm sweats under the bracelet), before eventually wearing off and requiring another coat.  Do not spray the faces of your pieces - you can remove time acquired "color" with a simple once over with REALLY FINE steel wool, or a polishing cloth, if you like.  Me?  I can't wait for the patina to eventually reclaim this one.
While travelling between Santa Fe and Albuquerque last month, we dropped off the main highway to visit Santo Domingo Pueblo, hearing that the old trading post there that had burned down in 2001 had undergone renovations, and was set to reopen to the public.
Sadly, the date had been set and then cancelled, suddenly, with no explanation - the post remains unopened. We did drop into the Santo Domingo Pueblo, to walk through the beautiful old Church in the center plaza, and were treated to a visit at a potter's house.  There is no photography permitted within the pueblo itself, hence a lack of photos, other than the trading post which is back on down the road.  
How something so kitschy and touristy has captured my heart, at the moment, is beyond me...another of those links to happy childhood vacation trips, and having a few precious bucks in my pocket to spend on beautiful treasures!


Maywyn said...

Lovely photos
Instead of spray sealer, make a fabric wrist sealer with cloth light enough to not add bulk, like a lawn or voile. Silk or wool might sweat. Or white gluea string of leather around the two edges inside the cuff to keep the copper up and off the skin.

Hindustanka said...

Hi Tanya... oh how interesting! I love copper jewellry, looks beautiful with turquoise stone in it. it was a lovely trip to the trading posts of America!
:) and how well they are maintained!

Jackie said...

I never liked copper, but those pieces are gorgeous! Love your travel stories, I wish I could write up my travels like you do, so many interesting facts and information! Keep it up, my friend...

Quinn said...

I'm having a flashback to the ads in the backs of magazines - or was it comic books? I forget - for the copper arthritis-relief miracle bracelets. Tell you what: if it works, green skin would be a small price to pay, in my opinion! Does the copper have to be in contact with the painful part? If so, I'll have to look for a suit of copper armor. But if just a copper bracelet will work for ALL your joints, heck, I'm going to buy the next one I see at a thrift shop or tag sale.
I'll keep you posted!

Dorthe said...

Dearest Tanya, such amazing pieces. I too love the new copper jewelry, to buy from artists now, but these are totally gorgeous, and beautiful. Tourist pieces or not, they are so special, to collect, so many years later. There are so many interesting details, and the prices are low ( anyway for me ) We would not be able to buy at that price here,...and would also not find any here, ofcourse.
Tanya, thank you for your loving visit, dear friend,- I also, will never forget you. Big hugs and much love.