Old pawn is the most highly collectible American Indian jewelry. The term “old pawn” or “dead pawn” simply means an item that was pawned for cash but has never been redeemed, a common practice in the Southwest, and often referring to American Indian jewelry.
The Native American Indians of the southwest learned the art of silversmithing as early as the 1850s. Descendants used this skill to continue creating sterling silver jewelry with the Turquoise, bone, seeds and natural shell that had been worn by native peoples for thousands of years. The traditional styles of Navajo, Zuni, and others, are unique and carry on the spirit and symbolism of the Ancestors. As the nation moved west, bracelets, squash blossom necklaces, rings, bolos, belts, and many more items made of turquoise and coral were sold by Indian families across New Mexico and Arizona. Some were traded or pawned for needed supplies, some were sold in tourist spots, and along the roadside.
Old pawn, dead pawn, or “pawned” jewelry often exhibits exquisite craftsmanship, unusual stones and sometimes significant wear and tear from usage of the years. One of the major characteristics of really old pawn jewelry, which is easy to tell in person, is that the pieces are heavy in weight. American Indian artisans used a lot of silver in old pawn items and especially in Navajo work. Newer pieces of old pawn jewelry may not be as heavy in weight and may not use the high amount of silver, precious metals and stones as had been used for older pieces of old pawn.
Traditionally, Native American Indians used the pawn shop or trading post to pawn jewelry they had made for their own personal wear and adornment or for their family. Usually nice items such as those made for special occasions or a special family member were pawned for cash in times of necessity. It is for this reason that collectors get very excited about finding old pawn / dead pawn American Indian jewelry.
The tradition continues, and gorgeous pieces of sterling and turquoise jewelry are made today by skilled artisans. Each piece has a story to tell, and will still be telling that story 100 years from now. Learn to spot reproductions, and help preserve a deserving tradition.