Collections Week: Bell Trading Company Bracelets

Speaking of copper, assembled here is my small collection of Bell Trading Post bracelets. Founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the company sold Native American-style jewelry at tourist locations in the western US. They were in business from 1935 to the 1980s. Because it was made as souvenir jewelry, it has a less artisanal quality. Copper was a favourite material as it is less expensive than silver. For this same reason, imitation turquoise was used. And while traditional Navajo motifs such as thunderbirds, rain clouds and bows and arrows we used, the pieces them selves are smaller and lighter than traditional Native American jewelry.

Bell was also sensitive to changing design styles. I’ve seen pieces that were very rustic and pieces that had the space age shapes of mid-century modernist jewellery. This wounded cuff shows the thunderbird in a very graphic design, but it lacks the stamped feather, concho and rope motifs of the bracelets pictured above.

So, how do you recognize a Bell? The company used different hallmarks. For example, early hallmarks showed a picture of a bell with the words “copper” or “sterling” wrapped around a bell. A later hallmark showed a spear with an arrow off the side and a sign with the bell hanging off the arrow.