Previous to 1700 saw European trade & gifting prominently in pewter, iron, brass and copper. The introduction of the silver trade in a prominent way took place as the Indigenous preference for silver was matched by the eagerness of the French and English to maintain strong trade relations. The demand for the adornment trade was so prominent it was said families owned bushels of silver brooches and wore shirts “so thickly covered with them that they looked like armour”.
Silver ornaments through trade and gifting was abundant until about 1865, when Indigenous silversmiths began to supply the Indigenous demand for old trade ornaments more prominently. Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) silversmiths to a large extent manufactured their own tools, chisels, flint drills & gravers, vises & saw blades, etc., and made use of candles & blowpipes to melt their metal. Often using silver coins as their metal source, Haudenosaunee silversmiths would melt and cool their silver into rounded buttons to create the canvas for their designs. While Haudenosaunee created their unique design style to include impressions of dots & dashes, wavy lines, sun & moon in their pieces, they also saw their own worldview in the designs of European origin. The “Queen Mary’s Heart” for example, was seen as an owl and worn as a charm at night. Brooches bearing Masonic symbols reminded them of the fire of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s Grand Council and began to be worn to represent it. The Scottish tradition of a circle brooch style was adopted and built on with the connection of many circles to make for an elaborate design.
This field information was collected & published by A. C. Parker in 1910, when he surmised that the artform was becoming obsolete, as few pieces were created in the 20 years previous. His suspicions never came to be, as the later 20thand 21stcenturies witnessed a renaissance of Indigenous silversmithing. Indigenous Nations from the Great Lakes area to the Carolina’s and Oklahoma continue to have a steadfast tradition of including silver and brass in their regalia. On the powwow trail, you will witness impressive displays of silver & brass brooches, armbands, bangles, jingle cones, headbands and belts among the many Indigenous Nations today.
Sapling & Flint is proud to continue the long-standing Haudenosaunee silversmithing tradition. We look forward to the Trade Silver line serving as a mainstay in our collection and will periodically contribute designs as we continue on our journey of cultural revitalization.