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A rare and historic “U.S. Navajo 70” silver pin

made by The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, very possibly made by Ambrose Roanhorse, c.1940-42

This piece may be on the somewhat smaller side, but it has a big and fascinating story. It is most unusual to find older historic Navajo jewelry which is clearly marked with a definitive indication of precisely when and where it was made and possibly also by whom. It is even more unusual when numerous individuals and places of such talent and historic importance are involved.

The United States Government’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board’s organized attempt in the mid 20th Century to promote and safeguard the creation of the highest-quality authentic Navajo and Pueblo jewelry possible was organized under and coordinated by two artistic giants; IACB’s Director, the internationally-renowned art and antiquities authority, teacher and art promoter, Rene D’Harnoncourt (1901-1968) and Navajo silversmith extraordinaire, Ambrose Roanhorse (1904-1982), founding Director of the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild and Chief jewelry instructor at The Santa Fe Indian School.

Only a very strictly limited number of organizations; Indian schools and commercial Indian trading posts were licensed to make jewelry under this IACB program which lasted only five years from 1937-1942. The standards

for materials and techniques used to make the jewelry were extremely high and the inspection and approval process was extremely rigorous to ensure that only the finest pieces could receive the Indian Arts and Crafts Board’s coveted stamp of approval. Participating organizations were each issued specific numeric codes with which their approved jewelry would be clearly marked. All of the various “U.S. Navajo” numeric stamps were personally made by Ambrose Roanhorse and each of the finished pieces of jewelry was also personally inspected by Roanhorse. If he approved it, he would then personally apply the prestigious “U.S. Navajo” stamp along with

the appropriate numeric code after which the finished piece could then be sold at a premium due to its official

“U.S. Navajo” designation.

All “U.S. Navajo” marked jewelry is rare and difficult to come by due to the high standards of the IACB program and its very short duration, but of the various “U.S. Navajo” designations, “U.S. Navajo 70”, the stamp on this pin, is one of the rarest of all. The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild which began in 1940 was an educational and commercial organization operating under the auspices of The Navajo Tribal Authority, not really a purely commercial sales-only enterprise such as “U.S. Navajo 2”, C.G. Wallace’s nearby trading post in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico or “U.S. Navajo 1”, Charles Ilfeldt’s prominent trading post in Gallup, New Mexico.

This is only the second “U.S. Navajo 70” piece that we have ever seen in over 30 years of buying and selling historic Navajo jewelry. It is even more significant because of the very strong possibility that Ambrose Roanhorse not only applied the “U.S. Navajo 70” stamp of approval, but that he very likely made the pin himself as well.

At the same time that Roanhorse was administering the “U.S. Navajo” inspection program for the IACB, he was also Director and principal jewelry instructor of The Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild and this classic, perfectly-stamped pin sits precisely at the exact intersection of both his spare Modernist design sensibility and his extraordinary level of traditional Navajo silversmithing ability.

The butterfly-shaped pin is exceptionally well designed and finely fabricated and is most beautifully decorated with perfectly applied stampwork and chiseled designs. It measures 2 1/4” in width and is 1 1/16” in height at the tallest point and it weighs an easy to wear 19 grams or 5/8 ounce and it is in excellent-plus original condition with a beautiful, fine, soft patina from age and use. The pin mechanism is in excellent working order. The pin is properly stamped “U.S. NAVAJO 70” by Ambrose Roanhorse on the back.

This exceedingly rare pin is an extremely lovely and finely-crafted piece of precious jewelry adornment

that is also a unique and highly-coveted slice of Southwestern and American history.


At left, Ambrose Roanhorse, c. 1940's. At center, Ambrose Roanhorse teaching students at the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, c. 1940's. At right, Rene D'Harnoncourt at the Museum of Modern Art, New York where he served as Director from 1949-1967, after his tenure at The Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

Left photo source and © Flickr, center photo source and © Laura Gilpin, New Mexico Art Museum, right photo source and © Museum of Modern Art, New York