© 2010-2021 by Fine Arts of the Southwest, Inc. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or use is strictly prohibited by law.
A historic Navajo tufa-cast ingot coin-silver belt buckle of the finest quality, c.1900-1920
ex: Teal McKibben Collection, Santa Fe, NM
We’ll just say it straight out; this piece is about as good as these things ever get. It has everything one could ever ask for or want in such a buckle and more--beauty, age, craftsmanship, condition, size, rarity and that intangible quality sometimes referred to as “Zat”, meaning basically that it just radiates greatness. The completely hand-wrought product of a highly-accomplished Navajo master silversmith in the early years of the 20th Century, this large-scale buckle would be a credit to the collection of any museum or serious collector anywhere in the world.
The tufa-casting here is masterfully done with the perfect combination of strength and delicacy which is the benchmark of outstanding tufa-cast work. The silver for the buckle was obtained from melting down a quantity of American or Mexican silver coins, very scarce, highly-prized “hard” currency on the isolated and remote Navajo reservation in the early 20th century. The amount of valuable silver here is indicative of the importance of the piece to the person who made it and the person for whom it was made. There is not a commercial bone in this body, in our view, this is a buckle made by a Navajo for a Navajo or for a good friend of the Navajo.
The buckle is decorated with superbly-executed and highly-detailed stampwork designs along most of its surface which artfully creates the feeling of both positive and negative design space. The buckle is further accentuated by two roughly rectangular, beautifully hand-cut and shaped blue-green turquoise stones set in old-style “foldover” type silver bezels at the top and bottom. We are not completely certain which mine the stones are from, but the famed Sleeping Beauty Mine near Globe Arizona comes to mind. Sleeping Beauty is one of the oldest producing turquoise mines in America and this corresponds nicely with the age of the buckle.
“It sure feel good when you wear handmade jewelry.”
-Ambrose Roanhorse, 1936
Quotation source “The Little Book of Marks on Southwestern Silver” © 2011 by Bille Hougart, TBR International, Washington D.C.
The stones and bezels measure approximately 1/2” by 3/8” each. The hand-forged silver crossbar and tang on the buckle are lovely pieces of work to behold in their own right. This large-scale buckle measures 3 5/8” in width and is 2 3/4” in height and is about 1/8” to 3/16” thick. It weighs an impressive and substantial 92 grams or 3 1/4 ounces. This amount of silvery weight is roughly equivalent to four American silver dollars which in 1900 could have been used to purchase some five pounds of coffee or twenty pounds of flour. The buckle is in excellent original condition with a fine, smooth patina from age and use.
If you know how good a piece this is, you also know just how scarce it is and just how seldom historic pieces of this unparalleled quality ever become available. And, the provenance is every bit as good as the piece. We acquired this buckle around 2001 from one of the country’s most notable collectors of and authorities on historic Navajo jewelry, our longtime late friend and colleague, Teal McKibben (1928-2006) of Santa Fe. Teal McKibben’s treasured collection of historic Navajo jewelry assembled over 40 plus years contained many of the finest pieces ever made and we were very fortunate to have been able to purchase a number of them over the many years we knew her.
This early historic tufa-cast Navajo silver buckle is a beautiful and extremely rare bird, one of the finest
and most attractive examples of this magnificent species in existence.
Note: The leather belt pictured here is for demonstration purposes only and is not included in the sale of the buckle. If desired, we can recommend an excellent custom belt maker here in Santa Fe.
The height of Southwestern fashion a hundred years ago
in 1920, a terrific Navajo tufa-cast silver buckle worn on a classic Navajo Second-Phase Concho belt.
Photo source and © The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths by John Adair, University of Oklahoma Press
Teal McKibben in front of her Santa Fe gallery, La Bodega, c. 2001.