Little did I know 2 years ago on a chilly sunny day in July that I was about to have one of those once in a lifetime encounters. Strolling through an antique show in northern Michigan I happened across a weathered woman in a booth displaying a wide array of colorful native American jewelry. Rows of chunky silver and turquoise native American jewelry crammed into dusty antique jewelry displays that had seen better days captivated onlookers. I moved in closer to get a look at the array of heavy silver bracelets, rings, squash blossoms and pins. Turquoise in every shade from robin's egg blue to deep green, sterling silver rich with aged patina and bright coral gleaming in the sun beckoned shoppers to stop and study.
A nice lady Pam was, as she shared with me the history of her collection. Now in her seventies, she told me the story of how she literally cut her teeth on Old Pawn Jewelry. Her mother began collecting pawned jewelry in the 1930's when she lived in Nevada. She had befriended several native American women who taught her the history, the art, the stones and how to stack cuffs and layer squash blossom necklaces. "Anglos considered my mother eccentric, wearing multiple rings and stacking bracelets from her wrists to her elbows but she adorned herself with the jewelry every day of her life. Most little girls played with dolls, but I grew up playing with exotic jewelry pieces. Mother passed the love of native American jewelry on to me and I've been a lifelong collector."
Purchasing a few pieces was the logical thing to do, especially since most of the collection originates from the same county where I live, San Juan County in southeast Utah. San Juan County includes the Four Corners Region of Native American land in New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. It's the home of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, and Zuni Nations and generations of skilled silversmiths and jewelers.
I stayed in touch with Pam for the next year and she filled me in on facts about many pieces. A few months later I was surprised to get a call from her letting me know she'd be retiring. Would I come to Missouri and take a look at the entire collection? "Well, it just so happens that I'll be in nearby KC on a trip with my husband in 2 weeks. I know several jewelry merchants in Santa Fe, Gallop and in Moab. I can help you disperse your collection and I'd like to add a few more pieces to my store too. See you soon."
Pam's lonely little store off the beaten path in a tiny remote town seemed an unlikely place to sell anything, much less a large amount of rare Old Pawn, "WOW Pam! I'll take photos and let my friends out west know about this collection". "No! I won't sell to them. I've decided I'll only sell it to you." "Well, how nice of you, but I'll find a way to help you disperse this in a few locations. It's an awful lot of merchandise you know". "Nothing doing - I don't know those people." Two hours later my husband and I were owners of several heavy bags loaded with rare Old Pawn jewelry that are highly coveted collector’s items and increasingly difficult to find on the market.
She sold only to us in order to ensure the appreciation and knowledge of the Old Pawn. We consider it a privilege and a responsibility to educate those interested in our collection, so they can fully appreciate both its beauty and its history.
You must come lay your eyes on this gorgeous collection at my store called The Find in Moab, Utah. Sadly, most pieces have a lost history only to be imagined. Thankfully future stories will unfold as new owners cherish and wear their prizes proudly.