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A remarkable and rare historic Navajo tufa-cast coin-ingot silver buckle of classic form and large scale, c.1920
They say that everything old is new again, meaning, of course, that classic things never go out of style and so it is with this marvelous, historic tufa-cast silver buckle which is as real old-style Navajo as it gets, but still looks refreshingly modern too.
This rare old buckle wasn’t made to sell in a tourist gift shop. It was made around a century ago to go on a real old-style Navajo concho belt worn by a real old-style Navajo out on the vast expanses of the Southwestern desert as we have shown in the historic photo here. This was an important piece made for an important person and you can be sure that on any significant dress up occasion such as ceremonial sings, squaw dances, rodeos, trips into town etc., this buckle was always worn proudly by its fortunate owner and admired by everyone else who saw it.
The buckle's craftsmanship is completely traditional and simply superb in every possible detail. Tufa-casting is one of the most painstaking and difficult of all the traditional Navajo silversmithing techniques and the unknown silversmith who made this piece was a virtuoso at it. He began by meticulously and skillfully hand-carving his design into a tufa stone mold, then he melted down a quantity of valuable American and/or Mexican silver coins and carefully poured the red-hot molten metal into the tufa mold. The amount of silver coins used here, nearly 1/4 lb, is a testament to how important this buckle was. Silver coins were the only form of hard currency the Navajo had avaliable and they were quite scarce in the predominantly trade economy of early 20th century Navajoland. To use as many of them as it took to make this buckle was a significant investment indeed. An American silver dollar weighs about 28 grams, to make this buckle would have required using almost four of these which alternatively could have been used to purchase about ten pounds of good beef, three dozen eggs and five loaves of bread.
In creating this buckle, the silversmith achieved a most graceful and elegant form with the ideal combination of strength, delicacy and proportion one always looks for in fine tufa-casting. After carefully filing, shaping and smoothing the buckle’s surface, he decorated it all over with classic and beautifully-applied stamped, chiseled and filed designs. Even the perfectly hand-forged silver tang on the buckle is a work of art.
The buckle measures a very impressive 3 1/2” in height and a shade over 3 3/4” in width. It weighs an equally impressive 106 grams or 3 3/4 ounces, nearly a quarter pound of solid silver. The buckle can accommodate a belt of up to 1 1/8” in width and it is in excellent original, vintage condition with a beautiful, soft patina from its decades of age and use. The buckle also has excellent provenance, it came to us from the fine collection of a Southwestern Indian trading family who have been traders to the Navajo for generations.
This buckle would look equally attractive worn by a man with jeans and a t-shirt or by a woman over an elegant black cocktail dress. We have pictured it here both ways.
The Navajo people have a wonderful, age-old belief regarding the ideal state of human existence, which is for one to be able to “Walk in Beauty”. With a fine buckle like this one on you will be able to do precisely that.
This buckle was cast from melted-down historic American and/or Mexican silver coins like these.
A well dressed navajo man wearing a similar tufa cast silver buckle on a Classic Period Second Phase-Style silver concho belt, c. 1920's
Photo source and © John Adair "The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths"