Thomas Edison, when asked about his repeated failures while inventing the light bulb, famously stated that he’d found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. Identifying a hallmark is kind of like that. Sometimes you must just keep eliminating possibilities until you find the one silversmith that could be the true artist.
I recently had a request to help identify the maker of a petit point concho belt that was hallmarked “JMB”. If you look in many of the hallmark reference books, the initials “JMB” were used by Navajo artist Johnny Mike Begay, brother of world famous silversmith Kenneth Begay of Scottsdale’s legendary White Hogan shop. Upon researching several reputable sources covering Johnny Mike Begay’s scope of work, I would say that this concho belt was not likely to have been made by him.
Comparing the hallmarks themselves showed that the concho belt artist used all capital letters that were not joined, and that the initials were stamped onto a separate plate of silver which was soldered to the back of the belt buckle. Johnny Mike Begay used several variations of his initials, but none of them looked like the mark on the concho belt.
Beyond the hallmark, it is vital to compare the style of jewelry. This is where most hallmark resources fall short – they don’t have photos of the jewelry itself! When we’re sleuthing for the artist of a particular piece, we can almost always eliminate a possible artist based on the style of the jewelry. If you compare Johnny Mike Begay’s design style , it’s so vastly different than petit point, I would be doubtful that he’d made this particular concho belt.
So, what does this mean to me as I search for the concho belt artist? It means that I can eliminate one, and keep searching! If you know who JMB of petit point fame is, let me know. If you have a similar piece of jewelry with this same mark, I’d love to see a picture!