When white traders made contact with Native
American peoples,they were anxious to find highly desirable yet very
portable items to trade with the natives in exchange for furs.
Glass beads and silver jewelry were two items that filled this need perfectly.
The first pieces of "trade silver" were probably personal items owned by the traders. But before long, specific styles of silver jewelry were being produced - in Europe at first, then later in North America - expressly for the trade in furs. The northeastern tribes - who at first had little in the way of metal-working crafts - placed great value in silver jewelry in specific styles. A lively trade in sterling silver brooches, rings, earrings, and other pieces flourished through the fur-trade era (17th through mid-19th centuries.)
After that time, changes were introduced; including the introduction of so-called "nickel silver", also known as "German silver." This inexpensive alloy of nickle, copper, and zinc contains no real silver whatsoever. Those individuals interested in accurately recreating 18th century accoutrements should be aware of this, and accept no items not made of real silver.
We are often asked if we can furnish pieces of trade silver that are appropriate for a certain historical date or very narrow time period. It's very difficult to pin down an item to that specific of a time slot. Most of the artifact pieces are dated by their makers' marks, and makers generally produced items over several decades of their career.
Here's an example. There is a basic round brooch in the Putnam collection (similar to our #S101 series), bearing the mark of Jonas or "Widow" Schindler. Mr. Schindler lived and produced trade silver from 1760-1823. There is no way to tell if the piece was produced at the beginning of his career, at the end, the middle, or perhaps even during the entire span of his productive life!
There is a 2-bar cross of Lorraine (similar to our item # S211L), that was found at a Syracuse site and now resides in the Ft. Ticonderoga Museum. It was made by Barent Ten Eyck who lived from 1714-1795. Anthropologists estimate the date on that item c. 1750-1770; but no one really knows if it existed on a Saturday afternoon in May in 1753!
As a general rule of thumb, the more basic the silver piece, the earlier the time period. The simpler rings - with few or no piercings, the crowned or weeping hearts, the plainest crosses, and nosebobs - are the ones which date to the early to mid 1700's (and later, of course; these designs weren't necessarily dropped in favor of the more ornate). The more elaborate pieces with fancy-shaped or multiple cutouts, were items generally not produced until the late 1700's to 1800's.
What is the difference???
Those of you not familiar with these terms may be confused; and rightly so! Please allow us to answer a few questions.
Fine silver is quite simply, 100% pure silver; period. Generally, pure silver is considered too soft for light jewelry or items which receive heavy wear such as rings.
Sterling silver is, by law, at least 92.5% silver; the balance is usually copper, added to give the silver strength and hardness. This is the silver most commonly used in modern silver jewelry.
Coin silver is a silver alloy, usually made with copper or zinc. US coin silver (found in US coins prior to 1965) is usually 90% silver. Foreign coin silver ranges from 50% silver to sterling.
Nickel silver, also known as German silver contains NO real silver whatsoever. It is a much cheaper alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc. This material was introduced late in the fur trade period, and was generally regarded by the natives as an inferior material. They knew the difference, and so should you! We do not use nickle silver for any of our pieces.
Trade silver is a catch-all phrase for the various pieces of jewelry (such as brooches, pendants, arm bands, earrings, and noserings) made for trade with the North American Native Peoples though the end of the fur trade era in the early 19th century.
How to attach trade silver to your clothing...
FOLLOW THIS LINK
About silver prices...
Silver is a precious metal traded on the world commodity market. The price of silver varies constantly, at times rising dramatically. As the cost of our raw material rises, obviously the cost of the finished product does likewise.
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This page updated 3/11/22.