Talkin’ Hallmarks: Changing a Stamp

Just when you think you’ve got your favorite artist’s hallmark figured out, along comes a piece of jewelry that looks like their work, but the signature doesn’t match.  There are several reasons why Native American silversmiths may change their hallmark stamp.

One common reason to change a stamp is breakage.  Even though the stamps are made of steel, they are very small and take a lot of pounding – literally!  The edges of the design have to remain sharp and strong to impress a good stamp into the metal.  Alvin Vandever recently noticed the “V” stamp that he uses for his “AV” hallmark was wearing down.  He was able to replace that stamp with the same size and shape “V”, but other artists may not be so fortunate.  Hence, the type style may look slightly different from earlier pieces.   Again, compare the style of jewelry as closely as you do the stamp itself to get a good ID on an artist.  Alvin has gifted his worn “V” stamp to the proud owner of the last piece marked with the old stamp.

Alvin Vandever's hallmark stamps.  This style is regularly available at supply shops.

Alvin Vandever’s hallmark stamps. This style is regularly available at supply shops.

You can see that the "V" stamp was nearly worn out - Alvin has since retired it.

You can see that Alvin’s “V” stamp was nearly worn out – the letter had lost its sharp lines and detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another reason for a hallmark change is a name change.  Many Native American silversmiths are women, and will sign differently or order a new stamp to show their marriage (or divorce).  I’ve seen Zuni artist Arvina Sandoval Pinto engrave “A. Pinto”, “Arvina S.” and “Arvina Sandoval”, depending on her marital status at the time the piece was made (as well as on the amount of room available on the back of the piece!).   But comparing her exquisite cluster work leaves no doubt that the artist is one and the same.

These earrings are engraved "A. Pinto", one of the signatures used by Arvina Sandoval Pinto of the Zuni tribe

These earrings are engraved “A. Pinto”, one of the signatures used by Arvina Sandoval Pinto of the Zuni tribe

Turquoise earrings by Zuni silversmith Arvina Sandoval Pinto

Lovely clusters of high grade turquoise and delicate filigree-like silver work are distinctive visual hallmarks of Arvina Sandoval Pinto’s style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple initial stamps selected by a beginner may give way to a customized stamp as the artist becomes more successful.  Navajo storyteller artist Benny Benally used to use a simple “BB” stamp; he now uses a custom stamp with his full name.  However, his design style of stick-straight figures and appealing swayback horses are a sure sign that both pieces pictured are his.

Navajo Benny Benally bracelets with different hallmark stampings

Comparing the same style of horses and figures in each bracelet will lead to a reasonable conclusion that Navajo artist Benny Benally made both.

Two different hallmark stamps used by Navajo Indian silversmith Benny Benally

Two completely different hallmarks could lead to confusion – until you compare the front design portion of this artist’s work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our resident artist Henry Yazzie has a younger brother who is also a fine silversmith.  Teddy Yazzie will work in our shop at times, bringing his tools in with him.  Once, he forgot his hallmark stamp and had to make do with recreating it using a straight line stamp.  The hallmark is not exactly the same, but the two-tone contemporary style of the piece is definitely Teddy’s.  Sometimes, an artist may forget to stamp a piece during construction, so will switch to using an engraved signature upon finishing the piece.

Teddy Yazzie's regular hallmark stamp - note the clean deep impression and regular shape.

Teddy Yazzie’s regular hallmark stamp – note the clean deep impression and regular shape.

Here's Teddy's resourceful use of straight line stamping to recreate his forgotten stamping tool.

Here’s Teddy’s resourceful use of straight line stamping to recreate his forgotten stamping tool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teddy Yazzie enjoys making two tone traditional figures with contemporary finishes and design.

Teddy Yazzie enjoys making two tone traditional figures with contemporary finishes and design.

 

 

There are other reasons why a hallmark may not obviously or definitively identify the artist of a particular piece, but if you keep your eyes on both the signature and the style, your hard work and research will pay off!

Are there any Native American jewelry hallmarks that have you stumped?

by oldtownjewels