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!

Sunday, September 4, 2016


On the less traveled road from Central City to Estes Park, Colorado - past the happiest carousel ever, in the sleepy little hamlet of Nederland - just a stone's throw from the beautiful old rock chapel of Camp St. Malo - sits something pretty special in it's own right.  EAGLE PLUME'S TRADING POST - I'm betting it has been close to 50 25 years (at least) since we were last in there, enticed by a pronouncement of "treasures for good children", made by a grade school teacher.  Dad and Mom took us then - they also took me last month.  It was the first time since 1960-something that any of us had been back.  Magical then - even more so through my adult eyes.

As always, clicking on the photos will bring them up larger - clicking again will enlarge them even more (and make them a little clearer...something in the collage process is making some of my photos a little blurry, as of late - I will be seeing about a remedy).
Founded in 1917 by Katherine Lindsey, who sold antiques, art, and curios (as well as afternoon tea to customers), the shop was originally called The What Not Inn, later renamed Perkins Trading Post after her marriage.  Influenced by her own father's collection, Katherine eventually shifted her focus to the arts of the American Indian, becoming one of the better-known dealers in the Western United States at the time.

A newer sign out front, but the building is much the same as it has always been.  At the front door, we were greeted by a pine box for "Messages, Tall Tales, and Dirty Jokes"...there WAS one inside that day.
Sometime during the late 1920's Charles Eagle Plume found his way to the trading post, endearing himself not only to the Perkins', but carloads of visitors.  As Mr. Perkins' health declined, Charles was instrumental in helping out around the post - he and Mrs. Perkins continued to run the post until her death in 1966.
Charles (he hated the name Charlie, I have read) not only entertained and enchanted visitors to the store over the years, with Indian lore and corny jokes, he also toured the United States, making a name for himself as a sought-after lecturer on Indian Arts and culture.  I remember him as he was in the top right photo (perhaps a little less gray at that time).  I also remember being given an arrowhead by him, just as my teacher had that was "misplaced" (or taken by my sister, who did things like that!) over the years and miles of my life, sadly.
Charles touched the lives of many people during his years of running the post and on his lecturing circuit.  Before he passed on in 1992, he established the not-for-profit Charles Eagle Plume Foundation, which encompasses his vast, personal collection of over 1,000 pieces, housed at the store.
They were more than willing to let me photograph inside that day - ALWAYS ask first.  This trading post was a wonderment when I was 8 - even more so to me now, in more of a historical museum aspect.  Charles' collection is incredible.  As this is a "working" trading post, there ARE newer art, collection pieces, and jewelry items (as well as vintage pieces), available for purchase (my Mom went home with a beautiful pin that day), in addition to curios and items for the children Charles so loved.
Completely hand-beaded Plains Indian cradle board...
as well as hand beading on an incredibly detailed leather ceremonial "hair shirt".
The stairwell leading upstairs - all very old...all very loved - baskets, bead work, and a chief's bonnet that left me wondering if it was the one from the photo of Charles, up above.  I'm just going to believe it was.
More jaw-dropping bead work, and a grouping of beautiful old, deep blue wool Crow dresses covered in Elk teeth, dentalium (long seashells), and antique coins.  If you go, allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in...there's something interesting and beautiful at every turn!
Which brings me back to that arrowhead I was given, all those years ago...ok, it was more than the 25 I claim!  On telling the ladies working that day, of my first trip and the fate of my arrowhead from Charles, I continued through the beautiful collection before me.  A tap on the shoulder and an urging to open my hand found the black arrowhead above placed in the center of my palm, with my fingers closed back around it.  The kind woman told me that Charles never picked out a certain arrowhead for any child, instead just reaching in and taking one, sight unseen - exactly as she had done with this one.  Dear Charles Eagle Plume - this one will stay with me forever! 
Thank you dear ladies, for rekindling some very special memories that day, and making new ones for us (there's a bittersweet story behind that clock in the photo, also...if you go, be sure to ask).  Want to make some memories of your own - visit EAGLE PLUME'S - Real Indians. Real Indian Art by clicking on the red link, directly above, for more info on the store and directions on how to get there. "Epeheva'e - (it is good)  This is a place unlike any other, ask anyone who has been here.  A place with walls that whisper, floors that creak underfoot, a place with a rare history, a patina left by time and an endless parade of characters"...from Eagle Plume's advertising postcard

The punchline from the joke inside the box, from the photo up above (you thought I'd forget, didn't you)?:  Because they had their trunks down!

Here's to "dirty" jokes and Charles Eagle Plume!