Collectible Copper & Turquoise Jewelry from Bell Trading Post is another Memory from Route 66
The Bell Trading Posts were favorite tourist rest stops along Route 66 in New Mexico from 1935-1972. There was no interstate and none of those blue “Rest Area” signs we have grown so used to these days. In those days Bell Trading Post offered travelers not only a respite from their travels, but an opportunity to buy unique souvenirs made by local Navajo Native American artisans including my favorite collection of copper and turquoise jewelry, a line called Corinthian.
Bell actually hired the Navajo artisans to work in a factory-like setting rather than buying individual pre-made pieces. Beginning in the war years this was a common practice in the southwest even for silversmiths, and in the heyday of Native American jewelry in the 50s and 60s these shops produced copious amounts of jewelry, some of lesser quality, for the trading posts throughout the southwest. Unlike some of the mass produced cookie cutter pieces that were turned out by the same workers at the same time, the Corinthian line was unique, literally. No two pieces made were ever the same. Local copper mines were plentiful and turquoise is found in copper mines. While some turquoise is beautifully shaped and colored with a lovely matrix, some is nearly colorless and fragile and small. But with a little ingenuity and creativity it was this turquoise that became the focal point of the Corinthian Line.
The artisans were able to take this sub-standard turquoise and pressured plastic into it, giving them a richer color and much sturdier substance with which to fashion jewelry. They crafted very heavy copper bracelets, buckles, bolos and earrings, both clip and later pierced. Then these irregular pieces of turquoise—each uniquely shaped and sized—were placed on the basic piece. Molten copper was used to create bezels around each stone and over the front surface creating an ancient hammered look to the piece. The final step was not the bright shiny polished copper usually seen but rather a rustic, darkened finished reminiscent of ancient Greece.
They first sold the Corinthian line in the mid-1940s, and we were able to find pieces, still in their original packaging dated in the early 1970s. The line included pieces for both men and women. Collecting the pieces becomes very addicting as each unique piece seems more beautiful than the last! We especially enjoyed collecting and wearing the pieces as a couple which always drew loads of compliments and invariably the question of where the pieces had been obtained.
As a customer it is enough to be in love with the pieces. You should be aware, however, when purchasing the cuff bracelets that these have no give and cannot be adjusted. Make note of the size when you are purchasing them as they were made in a variety of sizes, many large enough for a man’s wrist and in varying widths as well.
For shop owners it is important to have the accurate facts when listing these beautiful pieces. First, they are made by Native Americans. The metal is 100% copper as attested by the Bell Trading Post copper logo (they also made sterling and nickel silver and have separate logos for these), and you should learn to recognize their mark. I have included the logo on the picture of my first piece of Corinthian, a large belt buckle. The turquoise used in this line is always stabilized turquoise, and as such, Ruby Lane requires this to be disclosed in the listing. And most of all, include the name of the line, Corinthian, in your title and listing. There are many collectors out there and using the name will bring additional customers to your shop.
Certainly all of Bell Trading Posts Native American made copper and turquoise jewelry is collectible, but for me, this unusual line will always be a favorite—and another memory of Route 66.
Cowboy Rick Brown
Cowboy Rick’s Corral of Collectibles on Ruby Lane