Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wilford's Jewelry Buying Journal

9/15/07 Shopping with Investor

I am beginning to attract a few investors to the business. Jewelry inventory outlay adds up rapidly and I am expanding into the more expensive end of the Native American Jewelry business. My second investor met me and we went shopping for additional inventory today. I am happy to report that we were able to acquire a real master piece concho belt by Harry Morgan. It is now posted as Item number: 180160113123 on Ebay. Also picked up some beautiful Zuni inlay bracelets.

9/14/07 Calvin Begay

I stopped by Sunrise Jewelry Manufacturing and picked up a small bag of Cavin Begay’s work that they finished out for me. I so pleased that Calvin is with the new company. Their quality control is outstanding. Other artist’s work there so Calvin was quite pleased when I held up the treasure bag with a smile to him and said, “Nothing but Calvin.” As previously noted he is a very personable fellow and I’m proud to be promoting his work.

9/13/07 Silversmiths--The Famed and Forgotten

Today was a most interested buying day. First, I went to get some more Harry Morgan bracelets from Rain Bird Trading Co. which is actually a small subdivision of the Gallup Lumber Company. Indian jewelry is to Gallup what the slot machine is to Las Vegas. You are as likely to find an Indian jewel sale display at the Laundromat as you are to lose your pants before you can get them cleaned at the laundry slots in Vegas. Sadly from my perspective a single buyer beat me to the few remaining Morgan masterworks. I should not feel too bad because I got the bulk of them on previous occasions. Rather than leave empty handed, I picked two Greg Pat bracelets. Greg is Harry’s Morgan step-son and his work is good.

From Rainbird I headed over to Sunrise Jewelry near my home. I was in luck because Calvin Begay was in. We had never met before, but after we chatted for a couple of minutes we on a fast friendship track. He spoke of a little of his unhappy break with A Touch of Santa Fe across town. Perhaps that is good because his designs there are copyrighted and he is into a new creative phase. He would like to have his own company he told me. What he didn’t have to tell me is that such an endeavor given his kind of refined modern jewelry requires dedicated staff, stone cutter, stone setters, polishers, etc. Calvin’s time is best used for design and he now has some new work ready for production. I ordered some pieces, but they still have to be buffed out.

Calvin is very well known as a master jewelry maker the world over. His booth display was extremely popular at the Santa Fe Indian Market this year. After placing my order I stopped in at Wendy’s ½ mile down the road and took my place at a table. Soon a middle aged asked me if could join me. I thought it a bit odd since there were plenty of empty tables. He plunked down with his 99 cent cup of chili and was soon joined by another man of similar age and hardscrabble appearance. They passed that meager portion of chili back and forth between them two or three times. I had fries I didn’t want so I pushed them over so they would have a little more. They both claimed to be silversmiths down on their luck and just off a major drinking binge. One of them told how he’d been sleeping on the short mesa top next to Wendy’s for the past 7 nights. They said they were now on their way to the state fair in Albuquerque for Indian Day where admission, rides, and food are free to Native Americans. As anticipated they asked for a little cash as we parted. I gave them $10 so the question remains, will it be used for more Thunderbird or to help them get to Albuquerque for fun, food, and rides at the fair. I left feeling sad for those two.

Late afternoon took me back to my favorite place Perry Null Trading Company here in Gallup; I picked up a bit more inventory and invited to tour the pawn vaults. I had not idea that ceremonial buckskins were so common and commonly pawned. To pawn buckskin, it must be complete with tail and ears. The quality of the pawned jewelry items from squash blossom necklaces to concho belts was amazing. I was surprised to see an entire drawer section dedicated to individual customers who have pawned items. I left Perry’s trading company thinking of nothing but buckskins.

9/6/07—A Common Day of Buying

I started out going to pickup a couple of Harry Morgan bracelet replacements and I took a look at the work of some of children. The kids are charging the prices for the work as dear old DAD, but I give them all credit. Harry taught his kids well, I think their work is equivalent in excellence to my eye. It just does not have the collector’s appeal of Harry Morgan work and probably never will, but Harry came first.

Jewelry has been selling briskly this week so I thought I’d replenish a few items. The nice thing about Sunrise Indian Jewelry, manufacturer of high quality inlay jewelry, is that it is a 3 block walk from primary home here in Gallup. The Solomon has recent located from Phoenix and somehow wooed Calvin Begay to be his in house primary jewelry designer. I haven’t met Calvin yet, he apparent went out for a rodeo today. I’ll stop in until I do. Solomon showed me some his new modern designs and I’m anxious to get some up. In fact, I will probably have an opportunity to get them up first. Many of the new pieces are derivatives of his old copyrighted designs primarily manufactured through “Touch of Santa Fe.” Solomon was very busy today, so I left without buying. He invited me back on Saturday, but I told him I was obligated to attend the annual Buddy Holly Music Festival in Clovis, New Mexico with a group of my Bula, Texas, high school friends who merge their every year. Bula is now a long gone ghost town. Nonetheless, I plan to take that short walk back to Sunrise Jewelry again in a week or two. There are several beautiful inlay pieces I am anxious to put up for sale.

My buying activities today concluded with a few minor purchases which included a replacement coin & turquoise bracelet by James McCabe. I can’t get a steady supply of his work, but I fortunately had the opportunity to latch on to one today. I was also very happy to pick up a Doris Smallcanyon Kachina bolo done in brilliant red coral. Any serious collector should consider adding a Doris piece to their jewelry draw. Her her prices are more than reasonable.
9/5/07—Store Expansion

I have a long term friend from Texas who has been followed the development of Wilford’s Trading Post since day 1. A couple of days ago he wrote asking me if he could invest in the store. I sketched out a profit sharing arrangement; he wrote back telling me that a check was in the mail. We spoke of putting up a $5600 Harry Morgan Concho belt, but ultimately decided it was likely to a remain as a window dressing for a long time before finding a buyer; instead, we decided to expand the store’s bracelet offerings. So, it was a bit of fun spending my investor’s money today. I purchased a cluster of most excellent bracelets. When I came home my wife Sandy immediately insisted on taking one, an old pawn coin bracelet. I told her the bracelets were not mine but that she could buy at fair retail price. She did and now cannot quit admiring it, and my investor now has his first return on his money in the mail. I expect the other bracelets bought on his investment behalf will sell rapidly. I’ve agreed to get them posted for sale within the week. There are 10 left in the bag.

I’ve wanted to start an account at Indian Touch of Gallup on Route 66 for several months, one reason is because they are one of the very few wholesale places open on Sunday in Gallup. One side of the Gallup along 66 there are some businesses that have the railroad line in their their backyards. The other side of the street is a long line of Indian arts businesses. In that competitive line-up, Richardson’s Trading Company sits well anchored as King and local historical center of the Indian arts trade. Among the others along that route, you’ll find raw materials for making the jewelry and cheap tourist trap stuff all the way up to museum quality pieces. There is even some interesting specialty shops like the one that deals only in Zuni fetishes. Well, then there is one other issue of concern and that is imitation imports from around the world. I’ve chosen to present only authentic Native American products, so I have to constantly screen for imports and fakes. I don’t think you will find anything in Richardson’s or Perry Null’s that is not authentic Indian made with the possible exception of something like a hair barrette clamp as a functional back piece to a true sterling silver work crafted by Native Americans.

Many reputable large dealers like Indian Touch of Gallup do have import sections, but seem to be very honest with identification, labeling, and even a good physical separation of their offerings. I image they feel little choice in such a competitive marketplace like Gallup. I try whenever possible to get the artist name and I particularly appreciate the owner’s insistence that pieces be signed when practical with signature or hallmark. I prefer a distinctive hallmark since real engraved signatures are likely to be shallow and hard to decipher. I did get a little frustrated when I ran across a pair of simply beautiful 14K multi-stone cowboy boot earrings that I though would be highly marketable in their expensive retail price class. When asked about the artists, I was told they were made in Albuquerque. They were stamped with a company hallmark. In my mind that is too little information to qualify to be on my shelf where I want to stand by the Native American made claim.

Nonetheless, the prices are good and the selection quite large, so I walked with out with about $2,500 worth of carefully selected Native American Jewelry. Shopping wholesale is fun; categorizing, labeling, photographing, and putting up in the Internet is not.

On my way to Santa Fe today, I very much wanted to stop in at Sunwest Silver in Albuquerque for a bag full of items, but most of the wholesalers require a good size minimum purchase. With the web sales slow this past week, I was feeling a bit in the red. That purchase will need to wait another day.

8/25/07--An Old Trader's Advice / Up two more Harry Morgan Bracelets

I bought 1/2 of the Harry Morgan bracelet's presented to me yesterday. Actually, when I inquired about buying all of them, I sensed some resistence and a stark verbal reminder that they were Harry Morgans and the end of line. It was enough to make me feel bad even for asking. Two of the bracelet's I was all too happy to leave behind, only to regret it later when reflecting on the advice of an Old Indian Trader.

He said, "buy 1/3 what you really like, 1/3 which you find ok but not really to your liking, and 1/3 what you really don't like.

I corrected by error by going back to my Gallup source and buying the two concho bracelets without stones today. I bet they go fast once I get them listed.

8/24/07--One R. Chee and A Baker's Dozen more Harry Morgans

Today was another great one. R. Chee’s wife sold me a bracelet which triggered a conversation regarding the best silversmiths in Navajo. When I asked her who she thought the best, she laughed and said she simply did not know. That’s my usual answer when I ask the same of life-long Navajo here. When I mentioned that I thought the consensus was Harry Morgan, she laughed again in her pleasant manner and said, “Oh yes, Harry, his work is good.” She then went on to tell me how her husband Bobby and Harry were cousins and how they took to professional silversmithing as teenage boys in order to support themselves. Apparently they had a close association because Harry would occasionally get R. Chee to make bracelets for him before going off on jewelry selling trips. R. Chee’s work is excellent and really hard to differentiate from Harry’s except by the hallmark. I did learn that R. Chee’s has never made a tobacco flask or canteen that his wife knows of. I suppose when it comes to that challenging task task, Harry was always ahead of his cousin. By our conversation’s end, Mrs. Chee told me where I could acquire some more Harry Morgan bracelets. An hour later I was owner of 13 more Harry Morgan bracelets. The truth is that an R. Chee’s work is of equivalent quality but it doesn’t carry the famous name collector appeal of a Harry Morgan.

8/21/07--I finally get my own spiny oyster specimen.

Red Shell Jewelry is located right on Route 66 not far from Richardson’s Trading Company. For weeks, I have wanted to purchase a spiny oyster, perhaps to include some product photography. I’ve looked high and low and found only pieces or lousy specimens at Indian jewelry maker supply outfits. Every time I’ve driven by Red Shell Jewelry for weeks now they have looked barred closed and out of business, Not so today, the door was open so I abandoned my other mission and came out with trophy specimen. If you would like to see and/or purchase a specimen for yourself check out their site at

8/20/07 Harry Morgan Bracelets (now a rare find)

Great day, I found four Harry Morgan bracelets at a wholesaler dealer in Gallup. I bought them all for eventual resale.
8/18/07 and 8/19/07 The Santa Fe Indian Market

I wanted to get an early start on our first day of the market, so I was a little annoyed that my wife Sandy took so long to get ready, but when she stepped out bedecked for the day looking like a model right off the cover of the Santa Fean Magazine, all was forgiven. She wore sunglasses, a broad rimmed Panama style hat, long Royston turquoise on silver earrings by Stanley Parker, two different lush deep red coral necklaces, one sparsely accented with sky blue turquoise, and a thick bracelet by accented by Royston Turquoise This was all set against a background orange cotton blouse and a blue denim skirt. All that was missing was a good Concho belt, but I only thought of that as I began writing up her description. I dressed as drab Wellford in his Panama hat. Really, I should have worn at least a bolo tie. I might add that Sandy’s interest in the Indian Market goes well beyond fashion or providing support to Wilford. She is art and music teacher to 357 elementary students in one of the McKinley County Schools in Gallup. Nine-six percent of the student body are Navajo, not only do they appreciate her wearing Navajo jewelry, they love it when their art lessons embrace elements of their culture. Their favorite visual art activity is making jewelry from heavy duty tin foil tape, and after that you guessed it, pottery making. The kids especially enjoy the entire Native American Art magazine she brings in and these shows are a good place to get them.

The Santa Fe Indian Market is not to be missed. I’d say it is to the Native American Arts connoisseur what the Western Landscape is to a scenic photographer. It’s hard to take it all in on one sweltering hot day as was the case on Saturday. Even in good weather, it deserves two full days of careful attention and the endurance of good feet willing to walk the several miles booth to booth.

In general and from a Gallup perspective, prices tend to be on the side of outrageous retail, but I think considering the hype and the quality of the juried work that’s appropriate. The Santa Fe Market is no place for bargain hunters and no place for wholesaler buyers except from an educational or meet-the-artists perspective. Indeed, the Santa Fe Market is the best of all places for the artisans to sell their work at retail prices directly to the public. Keep in mind it’s not cheap for them to participate. The artist’s have to pay for their transportation, three or more nights of food and lodging at seasonally adjusted inflated rates. On top of that, their tent covered booth fee runs $250 to $500.

Besides jewelry, there were displays of rugs, pottery, other textiles, sculptures, and Kachina carvings. The work was beautiful and I was often distracted, but I held back as much as possible to keep my focus on jewelry. One of the great things about attending a gathering like this is getting to see the limited production of silverwork by the small Pueblo tribes. Also, I have a hard time finding Hopi silver products, but they were abundant this weekend. I also met a number of the name artists, especially Stan Parker.

This market provided with me with some additional insights into the business, much of which I’ll share in subsequent journal entries.
8/16/07 Thursday

On my way to Santa Fe for the annual Indian Market weekend, I stopped in at the Rio Grande Wholesale Company on Lomas street in Albuquerque. The late Harry Morgan liked selling his wares there and so does Stanley Parker whose fine work I cannot find in Gallup. But before I got there I stopped at a wholesaler new for me, Silver Sun on Central in the downtown district. They are basically a huge facility, you can buy retail; the pieces in the front room are sold at price marked. They have a big wholesale Native American showroom in the back. In the basement they have an equally big showroom of carefully and clearly distinguished jewelry products from around the world. Their Native American raw material supply was very impressive for they own their own mine--Carico Lake, near Elko, Nevada. Most of Silver Sun’s Native American Jewelry is made in house by members of their team consisting of 150 artisans. They were depleted of some of their best since they are represented at the Indian Market, I’ll be interested to visit tomorrow. I lusted after one item I saw there, a very distinctive necklace made up of large turquoise fossilized stones conch shells. This royal turquoise necklace would have made a wonderful exquisite item and window dressing for Wilford’s store for just a little over $5,000. Perhaps if business is brisk I’ll go back for something similar. I really enjoy buying from wholesale companies and individual artists who are careful about the origin and relative value of the semi-precious stones they deal with. I’m sure that Thursday’s trip to the Silver Sun will prove to be the first of many to come for me. Incidentally, I was able with get out of Silver Sun with my jewlery money untapped, so was my focus on getting my hands on more of Mr. Parker’s nice creations at Rio Grande Wholesalers just down the road.
8/8/07 Wednesday

The entry for today has an economic pearl of insight for those of you who enjoy collecting and/or wearing Native American Jewelry. Tonight, my wife Sandy and I attended the opening preview of the 86th Annual Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremony. I’m not sure how the competitive show exactly rates but it is somewhere near the top, probably 1st or 2nd in the business. I had hoped to pick up an unusual piece or two, especially if that piece(s) had won a blue ribbon. Too bad, I came away empty handed. Although the place was packed with beautiful jewelry, I didn’t see anything particularly unique or unusual. And the prices were anywhere from fair retail to outrageously inflated. Let me give an example. A major trading company, one I thought was high but otherwise reasonable, had two HL Zunie pieces both marked $1500.00. If you look at my item 180137893920, you will see one of them, the other was the matching buckle I currently do not have in stock. The two pieces are Native American jewelry favorites (real classics) and have been so for years. And they are still in active production by the HL Zunie team. I see them on Ebay priced a little under $500 which seems reasonable, but I am still able to offer for much less which probably aggravates my competititors. Nonetheless, it gives me a good feeling about pricing at Wilford’s Trading Post.

I might add I asked Sandy to price both HL Zunie pieces herself, the same well known dealer offered them to her at 1/2 price ($750) up front, I supposed that's because she looks Native American (when I asked it was $1500 per item without a hint of compromise to come). But even discounted 50%, it's still price gouging in my estimation.
7/28/07 Friday

Friday was an excellent day of buying Carlos has a modest wholesale/retail jewelry outlet along the historic old 66 route: Nizhoni Trading Company. His place is special for me because it was there only a few months ago that I stumbled in and met Carlos who gave me an overview of the industry and loaded me with a sack of wholesale jewels to sell. Since that time I have been striving to have one of the most comprehensive inventories on EBay, from common to thrifty through rare and expensive. In the first few weeks of the business I was a regular at Carlos’ place, but since then I’ve diversified and I am now working with a number of artists and dealers. So, I have struggled to get back in. Nonetheless, Carlos was happy to loaded me up once more. From there Sandy and I went to Earl’s for lunch before heading out of town. I bought one multi-stranded red coral necklace table side from a Navajo man who had E.T. tattooed on his arm. On the way out of Earl’s I met Joseph Begay carrying in 5 small bow guards. As usual, I asked if they were made of sterling, he said no. I asked him about his working technique with the nickel-silver. He was very happy to explain in much more detail that I cared to hear. I bought them all even though a hardcore jewelry man might turn a blind eye and adjust his snout upward over a nickel silver product. I still go back to those Plains Indians of the 19th century; they loved working in German silver and even shared techniques with Navajo so I am happy to have the bow guards from Joseph up at a very affordable price. Be it gold, nickel-silver (German), coin or sterling silver, I love buying from Native Americans. There’s honor in all as long they are honestly represented.
7/7/07 Saturday

I’ve tried to limit by buying lately because I’ve accumulated an excess of inventory. It is fun to buy; it is onerous to photograph and put items up for sale on the Internet. I had no intention of buying today, but this Gallup; when you go out to Pizza Hut for dinner, buying opportunities emerge. Most managers of our two local Pizza Huts ban vendors, but that was not the case tonight. Within a few seconds of sitting down, the first child vendor arrived selling bracelets. Okay, I bought one for my granddaughter. Then a little fellow probably no further along than the 2nd grade came by offering pottery. Next it was a 10 yrs old Navajo (whose name I’ll withhold here) who came by our table with a small box of sterling silver goods for sale. I lasered in on one object, a sterling silver cowboy hat decorated with a small piece of turquoise. I started my usual line of questions which abruptly ended when he told me had done the work himself. I gave him more than his asking price and I’m happy to be putting it up on the Internet site this evening to share. I think the 10 year old is well on his well to becoming a master silversmith.
6/30/07 Saturday

As the doors opened this day, I made my much anticipated entry into the Toh-Atin Gallery of Durango, Colorado. Established in 1957, this business has earned a reputation as one of the finest Native American and Southwestern art gallery operations in the country. Sadly, they no longer sell wholesale, otherwise I would have been tempted to buy out their entire impressive display of Harry Morgan bracelets. Harry used to make regular selling trips to the Toh-Atin. The sales lady spoke affectionately of him and bemoaned his recent passing. I convinced her to take one of his premium bracelets for herself.

The Toh-Atin Gallery is definitely a must stop place in Durango. They know the business well. I bought a small canteen at retail price while I was there, mostly as a reference work in order to see if I can secure more back in Gallup, the Indian Jewelry Capital.

In the next few days I’ll write up a little more on the Toh-Atin in Wilford’s Jewelry Buying blog.

6/29/07 Friday

I stopped in at the Desert Inn Traders and picked up some small sterling silver items, earrings, toothpick holders, sugar spoons and a couple of premium items, a large belt buckle, and an HL Zunie horse head bolo tie. From there it was on to Durango primarily to see the Toh-Atin Gallery. My resting point in Durango is the historic (1898) General Palmer Hotel, one of the best rooms I’ve ever had. It has a four Diamond rating. I can’t image why the 5th diamond is missing.
6/22/07 Friday

I stopped in at Perry Nulls and found it true that Harry Morgan’s work was no longer out for sale. While there, I bought a fine hatband, another canteen by Sunshine Reeves, and a couple pieces by older brother Gary Reeves, a yoyo and a large exquisitely done silver and turquoise full canteen. It won a blue ribbon at last year’s Intertribal Ceremony. Surely, the staff must be sad to see those pieces gone from their showcase, but they’ll be up on Wilford’s trading Post site soon enough.

6/21/07 Thursday

I needed a new batch of sterling silver sewing thimbles. In the process of buying them, I found a couple new very well done old style bracelets by a husband/wife team, but also heard that Perry Null had pulled his Harry Morgan pieces, presumably for the vault. I think that makes sense since his work will be in even greater demand now that he is deceased.
6/16/07 Saturday

One of best and most overlooked places in Santa Fe, New Mexico is Museum Hill where four world class museums are tucked in the lush pinion covered foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains a mere 2 miles from the downtown Plaza. On Museum Hill the city is invisible and the air feels uncorrupted by civilization. My focus for the day was on one of New Mexico’s oldest non-profit museums, the 70 year old Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian where two exhibitions were showing. I was particularly interested in what their billing: “Wheelwright Museum has built a unique collection of what is generally referred tourist silver—jewelry, tableware, and other items made by Navajo and Pueblo craftsmen, both on the reservation and in commercial shops, for sale to Anglo consumers.” The displays were definitely interesting; the two I found most interesting were an 1880’s sterling silver horse bridal outfit and a dazzling collection of Navajo shoe spoons (also called shoe horns). The shoe spoon, used to assist in slipping on footwear without bending the back of the shoe, was an essential wardrobe tool in every American household, but one seldom seen today, especially the metal version. I don’t know that I’ll find any, but I’m now on the lookout for the sterling silver Navajo designed ones.

A trip to the Wheelwright is not complete without at least a brief visit to the Case Trading Post Museum Shop housed a few steps down in the same building below the main museum. Their inventory “includes over 800 books on Native American subject matter along with a wide-ranging selection of gift items, cards, prints, tapes/CDs, craft kits and other educational material related to the Southwest Indian.” The shop is small, about the size of a 2 car garage with attached laundry room. I found the jewelry selection to be limited and on the higher end of the pricing scale. I sure would like to be an occasional consultant for their jewelry department. I believe there is much that could be done to improve their offerings and promote great craftsmen like Tom Gilbert.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture / Laboratory of Anthropology is only a few steps away from the Wheelwright Museum. It is definitely worth the stop. They have a nice museum shop with a good bit of reasonably priced jewelry. There I even submitted my credit card to buy a piece by a famous artist that I felt had been undervalued.

Sandy and I finished off our fine day by going out to dinner at La Maya with a select group of my old high school friends. Of note, the ladies wore beautiful squash blossom necklaces and the men sported bolos ties.

My next major planned stop outside of Gallup region is the Toh-Atin Galley in Durango, Colorado. While in Durango, I surely will want to attend the Diamond Circle Melodrama to limber up my smile and plant a few songs in my heart.

6/14/07 Thursday
Again, a no buying day here in Santa Fe. Actually, I've have at least one hefty treasure chest of Indian Jewelry I still have to photograph and post. It takes on average 30 minutes per item for me to photograph, photoshop, then load into the Ebay store. No buying today; nonetheless, I did have a residual experience from Tuesday's buying that I think is worth the telling. I had prepared an official computer generated tax exempt certifcate specific for Sissel's Fine Indian Jewelry and decided to take it by in person rather than drop in the mail. When I walked in to her store Sissel welcomed me with an unusual glee I could not understand. She proceeded to tell me how she had been trying for two days to reach me without success. She told how I had gotten away with my bounty of jewels and all my credit card information in a manner not unlike that of a jewel thief. Fortunately, we got it all straigtened out quickly and we both had a hearty laughs over my unintentional thief-like conduct.
6/13/07 Wednesday
No buying today, but I did some retail snooping. Actually here in Santa Fe, I was much more involved in sniffing out some good pollo asado tacos than in expanding the trading post offerings. Nonetheless I did visit the Santa Fe branch of Shush Yaz today. The store is beautiful done in museum fashion and the selections are plentiful. Prices are reasonable but on the luxury retail side. They also featured bountiful old dead pawn, enough to fill a few pirates’ chests. But alas, the Santa Fe is closing down now. They are retreating to their homeland, Gallup. As a retail operation, I have to give them 5 stars. Check out their website at . I forgot to say I went there today because I had seen a Harry Morgan canteen flask listed, but it was gone. They did have a nice one, although not nearly as well constructed as Harry’s and the pricing at around $2,000 was due to the fact it was a 1950’s production. Harry died earlier this week, so you may see a rush to buy his work. His name will forevermore be held on in high regard in Native American Jewelry circles.

6/12/07 Tuesday

I never expect to buy wholesale in Santa Fe but today I saw a brochure for Sissel’s Indian Jewelry. They are nestled in a very fine spot with low overall visibility just behind the luxurious Hotel Santa Fe, Santa Fe’s only Indian owned hotel. The owner has a huge selection and I bought several coin based pieces. I found her pricing to be fair, my only disappointment was in learning that she did not know the names of many of the artists behind her offerings. She has a smart advertising quote, “Check the Plaza—then buy from us.” I could not agree more.

Now it’s interesting what I found my in my own family today. My young adult son and his wife came down from their home in Ranchos de Taos for dinner. I knew Chevy was once officially adopted by the Taos Pueblo Indian Tribe and that he helped them build ceremonial Tee Pees and that he has sat in honor at their feasts. Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn that he has rolled old US coins for them to assist in making their jewelry. He has connections. He signed on with me as a limited partner in the business and besides developing a “direct from Taos” connection; he wants to start marketing some Navajo Rugs through Wilford’s Trading Post.

Chevy was born on the Papago Reservation (now the Tohono O’odam) in Southern Arizona. When he left home to seek his way in life, he commissioned a prominent Papago “Man-in-the Maze” permanent tattoo on his forearm. His affinity for Native Americans and their way of life will always run deep.

6/11/07 Monday

I stopped at Rio Grande Wholesale, Inc. in Albuquerque and picked up a few things that I cannot find in Gallup. Gus’s Trading Company is a short distance away and is also worthy of retail stop if you are in the area. Both businesses are very wholesale and retail friendly. Wright’s Indian Arts is soon to celebrate their 100th birthday. I’ve heard of them for years, but this was my first visit to their store. I was disappointed in their overall jewelry offerings. They do have a good site. I think you will agree that cater those seeking primarily high end pieces. I like to see more inclusive offerings so I am constantly striving to keep a good mix at Wilford’s Trading Post.

6/10/07 Sunday

Rather than take a straight shot back to Gallup we decided to visit a business in Prescott, Arizona, Black Arrow Indian Arts. Their website had caught my interest. I expected to see a wide variety of Indian Jewelry offerings; instead I found their selections to be mostly of the BJ Mudd and Ray Tracey jewelry type. I see such productions as mostly corporate, modern, group dependent, and highly refined rather than individualistic expressions of art. As such they hold little interest for me. Besides, Calvin Belay’s work fills that niche for us. I do note that their website shows some individual Zuni pieces like that of C.Dishta, but I don’t recall seeing anything like it in their show room.

A few miles on our up and out of Arizona in the town of Williams, I found Thunder Bird Native Jewelry a good store to my liking with fair prices and a wide selection of choices.

The two stores noted above are retail and offer me no buying activity, but such visits help me piece together a good overview the business.
6/9/07 Saturday

We had a great trip to the Heard Museum in Phoenix. The Heard deals exclusively with Native American cultures. Since its founding by Dwight & Maie Heard in 1929 it has grown in stature to the point of being an internationally prized institution.

My principal interest in visiting was of course to study their extensive jewelry exhibits. The museum store is also remarkable and offers a large selection of books and a great variety of Native American jewelry for purchase. I thought their retail prices were very reasonable and I highly recommend buying there. My wife Sandy teaches visual arts and reading at Red Rock Elementary School in Gallup, a public school that can boost a 97% enrollment of Native American children, the vast majority Navajo. She is always working, even in summer, on the art curriculum for her children. Her most popular program is music, then jewelry making. My biggest problem today was getting her away from the grip of the Heard Museum.

For more information check out and .
6/8/07 Friday

I started the business aspect of my day with a quick trip back to Desert Traders, Inc. I was alerted to the fact that Sammy had some sterling silver brandy flasks for sale. While there I was pleased to find another Albert Maloney bow guard and some additional bracelets to expand my inventory. Located on the east side of town along Route 66 Desert Traders, Inc. is a wonderful place to stop for both retailers and wholesalers.

My wife Sandy and I then left town. Far along the road to Flagstaff a small building advertising Indian Jewelry caught my attention so I stopped since I’m always interested in how this industry is merchandised. The square footage of the recently opened building approximated that of one car garage, the owner’s merchandise for sale was very limited but his prices were not. My wife asked the price of a squash blossom. He handed one to her for review. It was marked $6800.00, but before she could react he agreed to cut the price in ½ then offered another $500 discount as an incentive to buy the piece which had honest market value of perhaps 800 to 1400. So reader beware when it comes to making purchases.

A few miles from Sedona, I stopped to look at some Native American outdoor sales booths. Of the dozen or so it looked like only one person had genuine jewelry artistic of her own making. The rest, I’m sad to say was cheap tourist fodder, but then again I suppose that does fulfill a market niche that many tourists desire.

My last market research stop of the day was a hotspot in Sedona, Arizona that National Geographic Traveler Magazine once identified as having “…the finest collection of Indian jewelry in all Indian country.” They also have the best overall Indian jewelry Internet marketing site that I’ve seen: Garland's prices are definite high end and they don’t discount, negotiate, or work with wholesalers. I gathered a number of good ideas from Garland’s so it was well worth the friendly stop. They had a good selection of one item that I’ve not been able to find in New Mexico: Native American Jewelry dog collars. Their lowest price was $150.

A quiet elegant meal by Oak Creek at L'Auberge de Sedona finished out our day of activity.
I took a brief trip to one of my favorite wholesale dealers, Desert Indian Traders, Inc. I was looking for some braclets to post and I found 4 by two different artists, but the real find of the day's buying adventure was a lady by the name of SH James. Many of you may recognize her name from her extensive jewelry offerings through Ebay. She posts diligently researched notes about the individual products she sells. She is especially keen on obtaining biographical information on the artisans. I was delighted to meet her and to hear her perspectives on the Indian Jewelry business.
I met with a man from Crownpoint, NM who wanted to show me his jewelry. He had about 15 pieces, all of it was good work, but priced too near retail for me to expect to successfully sell. I told him that I was interested. Perhaps, if I buy in large quantity, we can come up with a lower price. He told me that in he went to Hollywood in the 1960 to sell his jewelry. Back in those days he said, "This jewelry sold like hotcakes." It's not early so good now. I'm sure we'll meet again.
I plan to continue to put up pieces for sale by the areas best known artisans so stayed tuned for continued improvements in offerings at Wilford's Trading Post. This weekend, I plan to take my time revewing the Native American jewelry collection at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Nothing like visiting Phoenix this time of year.
No buying today except for some minimal restocking at Thunderbird Jewelry, but I stopped in at a new place just a 3 minute stroll from my front door, Sunrise Indian Jewelry. Owner Solomon Hawash told me that Calvin Begay is no longer doing work for Touch of Santa Fe and is designing jewelry for them. He showed me the molds for some of their planned new pieces. I will wander down soon to meet Calvin in person, he is out on leave for now. I wish his pieces would sell a little faster through my website, I would like to submit a new big order.
Today was simply one of the best for buying. I started off going to the wholesale showroom of the store that claims to be the biggest wholesaler in Gallup. They offer no retail option at all.The staff was friendly and the selection comprehensive, but I didn't like what I found there. Many of their offerings were from foreign countries. At least they looked to be labelled honestly as required by law, but I simply don't like having to worry about picking up something that's not authentic Native American. The low point was finding a knock-off of a Tommy Singer piece. Actually, it was well done and would have fooled me had I not noted the missing Tommy Singer signature stamp on the bail inlay of the pendant. I doubt that I'll ever pass through the doors of that establishment again.
Feeling a bit down, I stopped in at SILVERMINE MANUFACTURING. Ah, a breath of fresh air. They have a retail showroom, but they primarily deal with wholesalers. Their selection is limited selection, but expected since they do the vast majority of their own products. I picked out a basketful of items including some really nice buckles. I hope to get them photographed and up on the web this weekend. I'll try to remember to identify them as having an origin there. It just gives me a really good feeling of quality assurance knowing that the company has a team of artisans in house..
Okay, that was enough for one day. I decided to ask my wife Sandy to join me at JERRY's for lunch. Jerry serves up the best breakfast in these parts. The modest and crowded little eatery downtown is always overflowing with locals looking for hearty economical breakfast fixin's. After a modest wait, we sat down and a couple of jewel vendors passed by our table. I held back. The third fellow, however, caught my experienced eye. He had a tray of bold bracelets, some butterfly barrettes, and a few letter openers. I asked him if they were sterling silver. I was surprised to hear his answer, "No sir, these are nickle, I cannot afford to work with sterling silver it's gone up too much." I've been hearing similar complaints, but this was the first I had personally encountered it from a native jewelry maker. I asked him how much for the whole tray and he said, "I'll have to go consult with my sister who is across the street in the car." As I left I began counting my limited cash. I then got up to talk with them while I left Sandy behind to watch out for our food. We totaled up his tray, I had to pass on few items for lack of cash, but I bought about 90% of what they had. Meanwhile, I asked my ususal questions about the cost of materials, how long each piece took to make, the types of stones, etc. I'm intrigued by the use of Nickel (a silver/nickel alloy also known as German Silver). While frowned upon all too often here in Navajo country, it has a strong place in Native American history. The Plains Indians in their heydey used it to make much coveted metal pieces, like silver hair plates, bridle ornaments, pendants, bracelets, rings, etc. By the early 1860's the Plains Indian were generously decorated in Nickel based ornaments.
My interactions with the family of Nickel-Silversmiths the buying day for me most delightful. The family was most happy to leave me their address and a couple of contact phone numbers. They live about 70 miles away from Gallup over in Sanders, Arizona area. If their nickle items sell as well as I think they will, I will be giving them a call for another order sometime before the next moon cycle. See item: 180126960146
Once again I thought I thought the buying day was over, then I got the urge for a hamburger steak so Sandy and I went and had a grand meal at Earl's. The vendors were out in mass and I looked, but I was most reluctant to buy until I saw a table run by Ms. Paul Boyd just outside Earl's entrance. Her necklaces were beautiful so I could not resist buying three. I asked my usual set of questions. She told me she was of Navajo extraction with just a little bit of Zuni. She lives in Santa Fe. When I inquired as to why she told me they recruited her from Gallup years ago to teach silversmithing at the Indian School. She must be a good teacher for her two sons are award winning silversmiths. One of her boys just captured Best of Show at the Museum of Man in San Diego. His award winning masterwork was subsequently bought by the Wheelwright Museum.
To see Ms. Boyd's work check out: items, 180127097675 , 180127095204 , and 180127087563 on ebay.

Today was pretty good. I checked out the BG Mudd company. They refused to sell to me on the basis that most of sales are internet dervied. I'm not too disappointed, however, beause the Calvin Begay line of highly refined jewelry is very similar. I am making a very conscious effort to bring more and more quality onto the site. I stopped at one of my favorite dealers today, Perry Null's Trading Company which used to be Tobe Turpen's here in Gallup. I'll write about them for the blog. I snagged another Lee Charlie Ranger set and a Harry Moragan bracelet. From there I traveled about 1/2 to Zuni to Joe Milo's one of favorites again. Joe had some two historic Harry Morgan pieces I very much wanted. I also bought some more bow guards. I was tempted to pick up a pair of H Morgan spurs,but at $4,000+ retail, I had serious doubts about moving them as inventory. I hope to get the flasks up on the website in a day or two. They are both museum quality pieces. I'll write about Milo's in time, but let me say one reason I like them is that they sell raw materials such as spiny oyster, turquoise, and silver directly to the native artists. So they are very family with the industry as a whole.
On my way to Gallup, my wife and I stopped at the Santa Domingo Reservation. I found two treasures. One was a Franklin Dime Necklace, the other a Caribou Bone Multi-horse necklace Multi-Horse Caribou Bone Necklace + Matching Earrings 180125278208. I love finding items with a tale and the Old Franklin Dime Squash Blossum Necklace 180125269723 has a nice associated story.
I also stopped at a jewelry store around Grants to check out pricing and selection. The sky high prices just amazed me. It seems to be "charge whatever you can get" for many of these places. I priced a bolo tie that I would think of charging over $150 for it. I have in stock the same tie by the same artist. The store had it marked $700, but was willing to discount to $350. I am convinced online buying from a reputable, knowledgable dealer is the way to go for value.
I visited a few Native American jewelry booths in the park are near St. Francis Church. I also walked as I've so often done along the Palace of the Governors. These areas are basically retail oriented and as such holds little interest for a wholesaler buyer such as myself. Nonetheless, I will occasionally meet an artist of note.
I also checked the Wind River Trading Company across from La Fonda. It is Santa Fe's largest Indian Art Store. They have a great selection and generally good retail pricing. I checked out a few other stores. I saw Calvin Begay's work wide represented at several of the stores I visited. I also learned that the BG Mudd line is also made in Gallup. I'll look them up next week and probably soon start putting their fine products up on the site. Some their pieces are amazing. The fine multi-stone inlay range buckle set I saw today at Tom Taylor's priced at over $1600.
I finding it is interesting that some the Santa Fe merchants speak of Gallup as "local". Hey, Gallup is 180 miles away.
I was fortunate to attend the Native Treasures: Indian Arts Festival, Santa Fe’s only museum-quality Indian art show. Presented by the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Native Treasures features over 130 Native American artists, who are specially invited by the Museum to represent the best and brightest of the Indian art world. In fact, many of the artists at Native Treasures are included in the Museum's permanent collection. It is surprising to observe how many of the jewelry artists are from Gallup. Many who live elsewhere told of frequent trips to Gallup for supplies. I especially enjoyed meeting Hopi master silversmith Gerald Lomaventema from 2nd Mesa Arizona. I hope to visit him on a buying trip later this summer. You have got to be a real Hopi to live on 2nd Mesa. It's a great place to visit.
Navajo master jewelry artist Marvin Slim admits that he never makes to Gallup, but he wants to attend the annual Gallup Intertribal Ceremony. But not this year, he'll be displaying his work at the Smithsonian at that time. I only bought two pieces of jewelry at the show, one of them was his. I'll put it up on the web shortly after I get back to Gallup.
I've been hoping to meet Tommy Jackson for some time and finally had the opportunity at this show. Tommy and his wife Marie both started out teaching school and doing jewelry as a sideline, but became so busy that they eventually quit teaching to keep up with the demand for their jewelry. Turns out Tommy's workshop is just a short walking distance from my home. I'll be visiting him soon and hopefully get a few pieces to put up in Wilford's trading post. My inventory wallet is getting pretty thin so I may need to wait a couple of weeks before going on that buying trip.
Here's a list of the jewelry artists at the show:
Andrew Redhorse Alvarez (Apache/Colville)
Cheryl Arviso (Navajo)
Keri Ataumbi (Kiowa)
Darryl & Rebecca Begay (Navajo) Leroy Begay (Navajo) Ernest & Veronica Benally (Navajo)
Heidi Bigknife (Shawnee)Mike Bird-Romero (Ohkay Owingeh) - 2007 Featured Artist
Aaron Brokeshoulder (Choctaw-Shawnee/Santo Domingo)
Althea Cajero (Santo Domingo/Acoma)
Jimmy Calabaza "Ca'win" (Santo Domingo)
Franklin Carrillo (Laguna/Choctaw)
Fritz Casuse (Navajo)
Jared Chavez (San Felipe) Christina Eustace (Zuni/Cochiti)
Michael NaNaPing Garcia (Pascua Yaqui)
Ryland & Claudia Gasper (Zuni)
Connie Tsosie Gaussoin (Navajo/Picuris)
David Gaussoin (Navajo/Picuris)
Jerry E. Gaussoin, Jr. (Navajo/Picuris)
Wayne Nez Gaussoin (Navajo/Picuris)
Arnold Goodluck (Navajo)
Shane Hendren (Navajo)
Al Joe (Navajo)
Julius Keyonnie (Navajo)
Allison Lee (Navajo)
Gerald Lomaventema (Hopi)
Glenda Loretto (Jemez)
Anthony & Mary Lovato (Santo Domingo)
Naavaasya (Hopi/Laguna/Acoma)
Natasha Peshlakai (Navajo) Norbert & Aaron Peshlakai (Navajo)
Michael Roanhorse (Navajo)
Nick Rosetta (Santo Domingo)
Maria Samora (Taos)
Alex Sanchez (Navajo)
Cody Sanderson (Navajo)
Nelda Schrupp (Pheasant Rump Nakota)
Marvin Slim (Navajo)
Orville Tsinnie (Navajo)
I enjoyed a superb visit to the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM. I felt a real kinship with her as I visually savored the nearly 1,000 pieces of stunning Native American jewelry she collected. The highlight was the Zuni Two-Strand Tab Turquoise Necklace. Among Millicent Rogers' many delights of her most affluent life were her collecting trips to the Navajo Reservation, to native art and craft fairs, to the Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere. This necklace was purchased on a trip to the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial in 1947 by Millicent Rogers and her good friend, John Joseph, a founding Trustee of the Museum. You can see the necklace at: . Although the image doesn't do it justice. It's huge. I also enjoyed eyeing her collection of 19th century Ketohs (bow guards). They are very similar to the ones I'm choosing to sell from the the old trading post.
I was tempted to buy an old copper based one from their gift shop, but I thought it too pricey at $650. I'll commission one this week in Gallup at a fraction of that cost.
If you don't see Taos in your future and you love Native American jewelry consider buying the book Fine Indian Jewelry of the Southwest: The Millicent Rogers Museum Collection by Shelby Jo-anne Tisdale.
I personally try to keep a strong historical perspective in buying Native American Jewelry. Next stop? Probably the Heard Museum in Phoenix.