Researching Native American hallmarks is a lot like detective work, and just like a new clue in a cold case, progress can be made by a chance encounter if you keep your eyes open. Take the mystery of the “A. Vanderver” stamp. I like to search for the work of our friend Alvin Vandever, a silversmith who specializes in intricate sterling silver kachina sculptures and who uses the hallmark “AV”. My Google searches would frequently turn up the work of a different artist who uses the hallmark “A. Vanderver”. These pieces were always very traditional Navajo style, either two-tone (silver and gold fill) with leafwork or smaller teardrop or turtle pieces. These items would show up on eBay or Etsy sites, where the well-meaning seller would not only attribute the piece to Alvin Vandever, but would then go on and include Alvin’s biography – growing up in Crown Point and all… the problem is, I knew these pieces were not Alvin’s. They’re simply not his style. Somebody took a quick look at a single reference, liked the Alvin Vandever story, and included it with their “A. Vanderver” piece. Really? The first name is not there and the last name is not even spelled the same… More telling, the work is not similar. Hence my advice that seeing the piece of jewelry is essential to accurately identifying the maker.
I looked for quite some time and was unable to figure out who this “A.” person was. Imagine my surprise one day when I saw a piece on eBay, in a similar style to the “A. Vanderver” pieces, but with a stamp reading “A. Vandever” – in the same style and size of font as the Vanderver stamp! I actually wondered if the picture had been Photoshopped! I crazily considered buying the piece myself to see if this was a ruse! I composed myself. Over the next several weeks, I saw one or two more instances of the “A. Vandever” stamp, and was as puzzled as ever, until I ran across an eBay seller who told this story:
“This piece is signed “A. Vanderver” by the old Navajo silversmith “Anthony Vandever” who began producing for the Atkinson Trading Co. in the 1970s. He did know his second hallmark was misspelled; he purchased both his stamping tools for his hallmark back in the 1970s and his first hallmark “A. Vandever” was correct, but he kept using his second hallmark.”
Now, I find this story to be plausible. Is it true? I don’t know. But I got my most important piece of new evidence – the name “Anthony”. I immediately Googled “Anthony Vandever” and found several pieces of jewelry in this same style for sale by sellers who each had a little more information that corroborated the eBay seller’s story. So, progress made. When I last saw him, I asked Alvin if he had a relative named Anthony, and he’s not aware of one. If you know Anthony Vandever, please share a little about him with us!