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Money and Trade

Traded Treasures
Navajo (Dine)<br><i>Ketoh</i>, 1920<br>Silver, leather, and turquoise<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Bequest of Virginia Doneghy
zoom Navajo (Dine)
Ketoh, 1920
Silver, leather, and turquoise
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Bequest of Virginia Doneghy


The Navajo (Dine) people of the southwest United States did not hide their money in their pockets or in a bank during the mid-nineteenth century. Instead, they adorned themselves with their wealth. Having learned to work with silver, the Navajo put their savings into the creation and purchase of objects such as buttons, bracelets, rings, necklaces, and belts. These beautiful adornments, made with valuable metals and stones, became symbols of status as well as a form of currency.

With the opening of trading posts in 1870, Native Americans were able to trade their harvested crops, wool, and livestock for basic necessities and luxury goods. If a customer did not have enough products for trading, he or she could pawn jewelry for credit at the trading post. Traders took the jewelry in exchange for the needed goods. Later, the customer could bring in products with which to buy back his jewelry. Although traders were required by the government to hold onto the pawn for only one month, some held it much longer to help loyal customers. But sometimes traders took advantage of customers by selling their jewelry for less than its value. Therefore, many customers lost their valuables because the items were quickly sold.

Eventually, other Native Americans in the area, such as the Zuni (A’shiwi), took up silversmithing. Both Navajo and Zuni have created distinctive silver traditions. Although Southwestern jewelry is still produced for sale, the trading post system was replaced with the cash system we know today.

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1. Navajo (Dine) silverwork balances large pieces of silver and turquoise.
2. Silver is carefully detailed to increase each object’s beauty and value.
3. Zuni (A’shiwi) silversmiths are known for their detailed and complex designs.
Zuni (A’shiwi), Bracelet, 1950, Silver, turquoise, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Bequest of Virginia Doneghy


February 2008