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Probably the most evocative style of Southwestern Indian jewelry is the wide-ranging group designated "Old Pawn". Referring not only to the age of the items, pawn, or "pawned" jewelry often exhibits long passed craftsmanship, unusual stones and much wear and tear. Museums throughout the US and the world are filled with examples of fine, old craftsmanship which most likely came out of some Western pawnbroker's vault. These pieces are all authentic Indian handmade old, well worn items. All have been collected by Kiva's buyers over the years from trading posts, livestock dealers and pawn shops all over New Mexcio and Arizona. While often richly beautiful, old Pawn jewelry is often given a negative emotional connotation by those who are not familiar with the trading system as it was during the early decades of the 20th century in the Southwest. Much of the traditions survive today, in the more remote areas of the Navajo homeland.
Until very recently, the only manufactured goods, yard goods,
non-farmgrown staple foods and fuels available in more remote areas of
the Navajo homeland (dinetah "homeland of the dineh", the Navajo's own
name for themselves)
were at trading posts, originally set up to administer treaty trade
1868 by the US Dept. of Indian Affairs. These "Posts"later became
owned mercantile businesses whose secondary trade was in the lumber,
and furs, and farm products raised or gatheredby Navajo traditional
These families would often need cash, or credit, before harvest or
time and it would be extended against collateral, usually old jewelry
rugs. These items could be redeemed, after the due date, when the
came in, (just like modern farmers everywhere) or could be left and
eventually sold by the trader for whatever profit he could make.
In other cases, items owned by traditional Navajo people who had recently died were often pawned for cash by the surviving family, since personal possessions of the dead might be considered unlucky. Since few trading posts ever became highly profitable, most affording their owners a unique way of life as recompense, the system worked in everyone's favor for quite some time. Abuses by either side were and are still, rare.
We have known traders to hang on to a good customer's pawn for years after the due date, refusing to sell the items because they still expected the owners to show up to claim the goods. It is still common for traders to hold some customers high quality jewelry in their vaults on "perpertual pawn", releasing the items to the owner, as needed for special occasions or ceremonials. This allows the owners a regular line of credit, but also, secure storage of highly prized possessions. For more information, read Laura Gilpin's book The Enduring Navajo. Kiva offers our collection of museum-quality old pawn to our customers, first come, first served. It is now rare to find this kind of quality, and the selection is always limited. An Old Pawn Authenticity tag accompanys all Kiva old pawn jewelry, to it's new owner.
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