Quest for Authenticity - The United Indian Traders Association: Better Quality, Greater Sales

The United Indian Traders Association (UITA) was established on September 13, 1931 for the expressed purpose of authentication of Indian crafts.1 At the time, the UITA as an important player both in Indian cultural life and in advocating for the sale of authentic Indian arts and crafts. UITA was incorporated as a non-profit in New Mexico, with the support of a number of traders and San Francisco attorney Charles  Elkus. Bert Staples (Coolidge, NM) was UITA's first President, R. C. Master (Zuni, NM) was Vice President, C. N. Cotton (Gallup, NM) served as Treasurer and Tobe Turpen (Gallup, NM) was Secretary. Directors included L. L. Sabin, C. G. Wallace, J. M. Drolet, Ramon Hubbell, Lloyd Ambrose, Bruce Barnard and Mike Kirk.2 All of the founding directors and officers were veteran owners of trading posts in the Southwest. The founding membership of 753 grew to over 125 in about 10 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Figure 1. UITA business card 1934

Trading posts were important centers of activity in Indian Country. Most trading posts were located just outside Indian reservation borders, but some were allowed to operate within reservations on a permit basis. The posts were much more than just general merchandise stores. They also served as post offices and pawn shops (safe short-term storage of valued jewelry) and purchased wool from Native Americans. Trading posts shipped raw wool or blankets, and most of the Native American-made handcrafts, to distant wholesale general merchandize suppliers to pay off accounts. 

Many traders and trading posts employed or commissioned Native American silversmiths to hand-craft jewelry and other silver items. Often, traders would supply silver and turquoise to silversmiths for their use in manufacturing jewelry and other objects. Silversmiths were paid in cash and/or credit redeemable only at the post. But, cash was a rare “commodity” on and near the reservations before WWII and most transactions resulted in the Indian trader or post owner providing to Indian customers store credit or goods, in exchange for wool, blankets or silver jewelry. The Indian traders who operated or worked in these posts in Indian Country worked hard to gain respect and standing among Natives, and when they did, their stores became social gathering spots for Native Americans.

During the 1920s and 30s, cheap imitation jewelry from manufacturing companies began to threaten Native American silversmiths by undercutting prices paid for authentic Native-made jewelry. This meant that traders had a more difficult time selling their authentic silver jewelry to the wholesale suppliers or to visitors to their own shops. Silversmiths suffered too because of decreased demand for their products.

In 1939, after more than two decades of unfair competition from cheap, imitation machine-made “Indian” jewelry, harmful to Native American craftsmen and the economy in Indian Country, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) of the US Department of the Interior launched a short-lived government hallmark stamp program to combat imitation jewelry in the market place and inspire confidence in authentic Native American jewelry. The IACB stamp was restricted to 100% Native American hand-made silver objects, except certain designs not traditional to Native America (ashtrays, candlesticks, etc., meant for the tourist trade only). 

The IACB program was supported by UITA, but also criticized by the association. It was felt that the program was limited in execution, lacked breadth of coverage and was unable to keep pace with stamping needs of an industry scattered across a large Southwestern territory with just three official government representatives examining and stamping jewelry. As well, many traders believed that the IACB hallmark program’s prohibition against use of important  time-saving tools such as rolling mills and buffers was too restrictive. The UITA also supported the Federal Trade Commission’s prosecution of companies for using false advertising and for other misleading practices. 

  Figure 2. Build your own Navajo jewelry advertisement. Popular Mechanics (1935).

Many manufacturing companies advertised their imitation jewelry as “Native American” or “Indian hand-made” when, if they employed any Indians at all, they might only be operating jewelry presses or stamping equipment or soldering mass-produced embellishments onto machine-stamped shanks. One company, Craft Service, Rochester, NY, even advertised and sold a do-it-yourself Navajo jewelry making kit.4 

Some traders (prior to the establishment of UITA) solicited letters of endorsement from the US government stating that their own products were genuine. In response, for example, the Indian Field Service at Zuni, NM provided a letter to the Ilfeld Indian Trading Company of Zuni (see below). Similar letters with blank areas to “be filled in” by other trading companies were proposed but it is uncertain how many were actually authorized.5 

 

Department of the Interior
Indian Field Service
Zuni Agency
Zuni, New Mexico

October 8, 1929

This is to certify that all jewelry handled by the Ilfeld Indian Trading Company of Zuni, New Mexico, and sold by this firm, is genuine, hand hammered Indianmade products. This guarantee is given in order that the purchaser may be protected, and, as far as it is possible, to eliminate the sale of factory made Indian designs.

G. A. Trotter, Supt.

 

The UITA continued to be active at the National level. The traders opposed a bill in the U.S. Congress that would have established a United States Cooperative Marketing Board to promote Indian hand-made crafts. The traders felt such a Board would unfairly create a monopoly in merchandising native crafts. The  legislation died in Congressional committee, demonstrating that the UITA was not without friends in “high” places. Prior to becoming Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, an attorney, helped draft legal documents for UITA, including their bylaws.6  

Soon after the establishment of the UITA, its newly elected President, Bert I. Staples, had petitioned (unsuccessfully) the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to adopt UITA’s proposed standards for authentic Indian made goods and that “…the silver used in making Indian  silverware should be 950 fine as used in the old Diaz pesos…”7 For several years, UITA had also urged Rene d’ Harnoncourt, Chairman of the IACB and chief architect of the IACB stamping program, to adopt use of an adhesive paper decal to be affixed to jewelry and attesting to authenticity and silver content. Mr. d’Harnoncourt contemplated this option seriously and personally designed several adhesive tags, but abandoned the tag option in favor of traditional stamps. Nevertheless, many UITA trading post members used such paper decals on their silver jewelry for years. 

         Figure 3. UITA paper label; C. G. Wallace Trading Post

         Figure 4. UITA paper label: Packards Chaparral Trading Post

 While the IACB stamp effort was in full swing in 1939, it was apparent to UITA’s members that they could improve on it. When IACB stopped stamping silver in 1943, the UITA worked to replace it with its own stamping program. In 1946, after  several years of working out an acceptable stamping protocol, the organization launched their new program. The UITA made available to its participating members a stamp reading UITA (with an arrow symbol between I and T). After the letter stamp was a number licensed to the trading post or member.

 

 Figure 5. UITA stamp

Figure 6. Turquoise row cuff; UITA 26

 

Firms and individuals were encouraged to join the “United Indian Traders Association, organized for the perpetuation and protection of handmade Indian arts and crafts.”8 In 1946, the UITA put into place its own system of marking silver and within a year the organization reported enrollment of about 40 members licensed to use the UITA stamp.

 

 Figure 7. Pin; UITA 21

 Figure 8. Pin; UITA 21

 

Following is the announcement UITA distributed to its members on March 22, 1946.10 The membership was encouraged to join the new program which included options for marking with die stamps or removable “printed marks.” Participating members were required to post a $1,000 surety bond, and the association established penalties for misuse of the stamps or mark on inferior silver.

 

THE UNITED INDIAN TRADERS ASSN., INC. GENERAL BULLETIN

GALLUP, NEW MEXICO MARCH 22, 1946

ANNOUNCEMENT

Enclosed are copies of the following: Standards for Genuine Navajo and Pueblo Handmade Silver;  Regulations for Use of the Association Stamp and Mark of Genuineness on Navajo and Pueblo Silver; License for Use of the Association Stamp and Mark; and the new Membership Application  form. Please give all of these your fullest attention. They represent the results of a large amount of study and work by the Silver Committee and the  Executive Committee.

For many months members have suggested that the Association develop silver standards and  provide marks and stamps for use on Navajo and Pueblo silver conforming to proper standards so that genuine might be better identified. Now that we have them every member is urged to support them, especially those directly in contact with silver production. You may rest assured that the Executive Committee which is composed of the officers and the immediate past-president will conscientiously enforce and promote these standards stamps and marks. Association funds will be used to advertise them. The cost to a member to be licensed to use the stamp and mark on silver will be $42.50. 

The registration fee is $20.00 and includes two steel die stamps, one straight die and one bent die. The cost of five thousand printed marks is $12.50, and the cost of the bond is $10.00. That makes a total of $42.50. The bond must be renewed each year at an annual cost of $10.00. Any firm that sells surity bonds can take care of your bond. Should you need additional die stamps the charge will be $10.00 each. Additional printed marks will be $12.50 for five thousand. We desire to license only those who have a reasonably close control over the production of silver objects.

It is hoped that every member will carefully study this entire set-up, especially the standards. You are urged to support the standards and the stamp and mark. You are urged to take out a license and apply the stamp and mark if you are eligible. And you are urged to ask that the stamp or mark, or both, be on each piece of silver you purchase from a trader or dealer.

We believe that the time has come for the Association to bear down on the enforcement of proper silver standards. We believe that the time has come for the Association to do more to secure enforcement of existing regulations covering the sales and representations of Indian arts and crafts, especially silver jewelry. Further, we believe that the Association must do more to encourage the  production of good, genuine Indian arts and crafts and that we must now do more to educate the public to the genuine. We are now working in that direction. The further and continued advice of the membership is invited and their full support of the new standards, stamp and mark is requested. 

The Association is interested in having only members who will follow Association standards where they have control, direct or indirect, over the production of Navajo or Pueblo silver. 

The Association is interested in having as members only those (who) will support the Association and its objects. We do not want members who are interested in belonging to the Association because through it they can secure silver and findings or other ulterior benefits. If there are any now holding membership who do not wish to support the standards and objects of the Association, now is the time for them to drop out. Those who do not cooperate will be dropped anyway. Those who support the Association will be helped. There is no reason why the Association should help those not in sympathy with its objects.

 The UITA standards were published in various places,11 including the following article from Desert Magazine:

INDIAN TRADERS SET STANDARDS STAMP FOR SILVER

United Indian Traders Association, with membership extending over seven Southwestern States, has announced its code of standards for genuine hand-made Navajo and Pueblo Indian Jewelry and prepared to license use of its stamp and mark on silver so that quality hand work may be identified by purchasers. 

The mark which will be used to designate genuine Navajo and Pueblo jewelry consists of the initials of the association, UITA, with an arrowhead breaking the letters in the center and followed by a number designating the member who applied the mark or stamp.

Licenses for the use of the trademark stamp will be issued to members of the association who have control over the production of the jewelry articles they market, and to others who apply for membership in the association and use of the stamp on the same basis.

 In detail, Navajo and Pueblo hand-made silver objects to merit the association stamp of genuineness must meet the following specifications:

    1. Silver of nine hundred fineness (coin) or better shall be used only in the following forms: squares or slugs; scrap; sheet; round, half-round, square and triangle wire. Solder of lesser fineness and in any form is permitted. Findings, such as pin-stems, catches, joints, ear wires, tie holders, spring rings, jump rings, clips, clasps, chain, etc., may be made mechanically of any metal by Indians or others.

    2. Dies used are to be entirely hand-made by Navajo or Pueblo Indian craftsmen using no tool more mechanical than hand tools and vise.

    3. Dies are to be applied to the object only by Navajo or Pueblo craftsmen with the aid of nothing more than their hand tools.

    4. All appliqué elements of the ornament are to be entirely hand made by Navajo or Pueblo Indians.

    5. Turquoise and other stones used must be genuine stones, uncolored and untreated by any artificial means. Stones used may be cut and polished by Indians or others without restriction as to method or equipment used.

    6. Casting only by the sandstone mould (sic) method is permissible where the Navajo or Pueblo craftsman carves out the mold which is entirely hand-made only by simple hand tools.

    7. After the manufacture of an object is completed by a Navajo or Pueblo craftsman within these regulations, it may be cleaned, buffed and polished by Indians or others without restriction as to methods or equipment use.

Information is limited on the individual or company assigned to UITA numbers. The UITA home office was at Woodard’s Indian shop in Gallup, NM. Shop owner M. L. Woodard served as Secretary to UITA for many years. Most corporate files were reportedly either lost in a fire or simply discarded after the association disbanded. It is unlikely that a complete roster of UITA stamp users, and their assigned numbers, will be reconstructed with certainty of its completeness or accuracy. 

UITA NUMBER AND BONDED OR ASSIGNED MEMBER USER  


1 Gallup Mercantile Co., Gallup, NM (owned by the Charles Ilfeld Co.)

2 C. G. Wallace Trading Post, Zuni, NM  

3 Toadlena Trading Post or Two Grey Hills Trading Post, NM   

4 The Fred Harvey Co. (used regionally throughout the Southwest)  

5 Kirk Brothers Trading Post, Gallup, NM (Mike Kirk and son, Dean  

6 Borrego Pass Trading Post, NM (owners Donald and Fern Smouse)  

7 ?  

8 Bowlin’s Old Crater Trading Post, NM (Claude and Willa Bowlin)  

9 ?

10 Trading Post at Shonto?

11 ?

12 Packards’ Chaparral Trading Post, Santa Fe, NM (owned by Al Packard)12

13 Shiprock Trading Company, Shiprock, NM (Foutz family until 1910)

14 & 15 ?

16 Tobe Turpen Trading Company, Gallup, NM?

17 Hubbell Trading Posts at Ganado, Oraibi and Moencopi, AZ

18 Cousin Brothers, near Pine Springs, AZ

19 & 20 ?

21 Southwest Arts & Crafts, Santa Fe, NM13  (owned by Julius Gans)

22 Manuelito Trading Post, NM (Dean Kirk)

23 ?

24 Wide Ruins Trading Post14

25 ?

26 & 27 Various trading posts owned by J. Russell Foutz

28 ?

29 Hubbell Trading Post, Winslow, AZ

30 - 40 ?

For decades the trading posts were essential to the economic fabric of Native Americans. In the Southwest, income from trading livestock and hand-crafts at the posts accounted for the bulk of annual income. As public transportation became more accessible in the Southwest and automobile ownership more commonplace, Native Americans’ mobility reduced their dependence on trading posts and gave direct access to markets and consumers in the cities. Many posts were abandoned and ceased operations. 

The UITA disbanded officially in the late 1990s. The association’s remaining records were donated to Northern Arizona University. The records are searchable at the University’s Cline Library in Flagstaff, AZ.15  Many of the records are available on-line, and users can access oral records and interviews conducted with trading post owners and operators.

It is uncertain when use of UITA stamps ended. The general consensus among veteran collectors and dealers is that by late 1950s to early 1960s most of the stamps had been retired or lost. The actual disposition of the approximately 40 die stamp sets is unknown.

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NOTES

1   Powers, 2001

2   Elkus Collection; California Academy of Sciences Library; 12/1/1961. Highlights of the United Indian Traders Association 1931—1961. Box 16. Folder 6

3   Messier, 2014

4   US National Archives, NARA Record Group 435

5   US National Archives; NARA Record Group 435. Entry 4. Box 3

6   Schrader, 1983

7   Letter from Berton I. Staples to Charles J. Rhoads dated November 20, 1931. NARA Record Group 435. Entry 4. Box 4

8   Woodward, 1938

9   Kline, 2001

10 Re-typed from the original; UITA Records (1931-2002). Cline Library: Special Collections and Archives Department. NAU.MS.299 and NAU.PH.99.53

11 “Indian jewelry seekers assured of ‘McCoy’ itself,” Santa Fe New Mexican, 1946; “United Indian Traders will mark genuine handmade silver jewelry,” Albuquerque Journal, 1946

12 UITA Records (1931-2002). Cline Library: Special Collections and Archives Department. NAU.MS.299 and NAU.PH.99.53

13 Batkin, 2008

14 From records at the Elkus Collection (California Academy of Sciences Library)

15 https://nau.edu/library

REFERENCES

Batkin, Jonathan. The Native American Curio Trade in New Mexico. 2008. Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Santa Fe, NM.

Desert Magazine. Indian Traders Set Standards Stamp for Silver. (9)7, May 1946.

Kline, Cindra. Navajo Spoons: Indian Artistry and the Souvenir Trade, 1880s-1940s. 2001. Museum of New Mexico Press. Santa Fe, NM.

Messier, Pat and Kim Messier. Reassessing Hallmarks of Native Southwest Jewelry. 2014. Schiffer Publishing Co. Atglen, PA.

Powers, Willow Roberts. Navajo Trading: The End of an Era. 2001. The University of New Mexico Press.  Albuquerque, NM

Schrader, Robert Fay. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: An Aspect of New Deal Indian Policy. 1983. The University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, NM.

Woodward, M.L. Directory for the Navajo Service:Arizona-Utah-New Mexico. A Telephone Directory. 1938. M.L. Woodward. Gallup, NM.

PHOTO CREDITS

Figure 1. Author

Figure 2. Susan G. Schram

Figure 3. Karen Sires

Figure 4. Pat & Kim Messier

Figures 5-8. Author

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Bille Hougart is the author of The Little Book of Mexican Silver Trade and Hallmarks and Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks. He lives in Washington, DC 

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This article was published first in Silver Magazine, July/August 2018 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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