Old Pawn Jewelry Dead Pawn


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 Story


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.

The Quality

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.


The Pawning

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.



  1. I absolutely love old pawn jewelry! Or as we always called it, dead pawn. Whenever I’m in Native territory, we always shop the dead-pawn stuff. Great info here about ti!

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      So glad you have had a chance to feel and experience the really great pieces! The quality is just amazing!

  2. Imagine the history you would be wearing with one of these pieces? The work looks so detailed and intricate. Wonderful to read about the history of this jewellery.

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      Oh, so glad I was able to convey the history of the pieces! I can only imagine the story each piece could tell!

  3. How interesting. Native jewelry is highly collected here in Arizona, and I can now understand why. There’s been a long history of doing so. Learn something new every day. Thanks, Robin.

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      How lucky you are to live among the jewelry. And glad the pieces are collected and enjoyed instead of melted for silver value.

  4. Although my former husband was Coeur d’Alene/Colville and we spent a lot of time at Pow Wows, I have never heard of “old pawn” and “dead pawn.” Love the concept. I wonder if this is only in the Southwest or if it would be in other areas as well. Love your blog!

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      Thanks for the kind words! Since we are a moving peoples, you will find pieces in other places. However, much of it still remains in the southwest as it has been passed from generation to generation.

  5. The “old pawn” jewelry is so beautiful. Love the authenticity of it.

  6. Gosh, I have never heard the terms old pawn or dead pawn, but I am familiar with the jewelry you identified. I used to wear much of this in younger days and find it very beautiful.

  7. When I read this, I kept thinking about the stories behind these dead pawn pieces. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to find out who they belonged to and what their lives were like? Oh the stories they could tell!

  8. This is the first time I’ve heard of “old pawn” and “dead pawn.” I love Native American style jewelry and own some new pieces. I doubt if I’ve ever seen any that was pawned or had any history behind it. Your articles are ALWAYS educational and interesting, love them!

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      Thanks for the kind words. If you ever held a piece, you would then be able to spot more. The craftsmanship is just wonderful.

  9. I have always admired the “old pawn” jewelry, but I do not own any. I certainly will be looking forward to having one of my own someday.

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      You are well ahead of the game in knowing what it is:) I have fun “babysitting” the pieces I am selling.

  10. You know.. I really hadn’t thought of this.. and I have always thought of pawn shops to be less than ethical… usually because people use it as such, but not that they all are.. and there can be hidden treasures in there.. like garage sales!

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      I was once on your page until a friend purchased a pawn shop. He is a good guy; just have to know who you are dealing with. And yes, there can be treasures.

  11. I didn’t realize the history of pawned jewelry. Being in Arizona, I’m sure there are a lot of native American pieces available. I never thought about shopping at a pawn shop. Hmmmmm. I think I’ll visit some shops next time I’m in the market for jewelry.

    • ccfsm@prodigy.net

      Yes, you are in the hot zone. Just have to know what you are looking at, or know the pawn shop owner to be sure of authenticity.

  12. Very cool! I never knew the history behind the “pawn”. Thanks for a great article!

  13. Absolutely beautiful! I see them usually at pow wows. Now I know the history behind.

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