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American Indian antique textiles and beadwork

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Having been a collector of Antique beadwork and Navajo blankets and rugs for too many years to recount, I have seen too many unsuspecting ebayers taken in by sellers listing new items described as old and I thought that perhaps list of what to look for to distinguish an old piece from a new one would be a help. Regarding textiles, there were only 2 kinds of Navajo blankets which had fringe at the ends: Germantown, which is distinguished by it's vivid, dense colors, and Sunday blankets, which were often Germantown and were quite small, often used as saddle blankets. Without exception, all other Navajo blankets were, and still are, tied only at the 4 corners. If a dealer is offering a vintage Navajo weaving which has fringe, it is in all probability a fake. Navajo weavings were woven on looms and the weaver would leave the loom from time to time and stitch down the weaving so it wouldn't unravel in her absence. These stitches are referred to as "Lazy Stitching" and should be evident in any vintage Navajo weaving. Look for irregular stitches at intervals in the textile, typically done on the diagonal. If a weaving being offered doesn't have lazy stitches, chances are great that it is not hand woven and therefore, it is not a genuine Navajo antiquity. Many machine made rugs copy typical Navajo designs, and as there are unscrupulous sellers listing these items as old Navajo pieces, look for the lazy stitching and the 4 corner ties before bidding. With regard to beadwork, there are more fakes on ebay than you can count. Do your research. Certain tribes used specific colors and designs in their beadwork. The plateau tribes ( Crow, Cayuse and Nez Perce) were especially fond of pinks and blues for instance, while the Cheyenne typically used a horizontal bar of red or green between designs. The early pieces used very large beads, called pony beads. Beadwork in the early 1880s and on used tiny seed beads that were made in Venice. The colors were somewhat muted. Later, in the late reservation period, larger beads were employed that were Chech made. Very late beadwork is characterized by loud, vibrant and garish colored beads. If a piece is described as 1880s, it should not have orange or sunflower yellow. A general rule of thumb is that the wilder the colors, the later the piece, and, of course, there's a great market in outright copies which aren't old or Indian made.  The earlier the piece, the more simple the design. Also, use common sense: if a piece is really 1880s, it should have wear. The back of a strike a lite or knife sheath should have wear from useage, etc. If there is a lot of dirt between the beads, but the top has no apparent wear, it is a fake. Consider what the item was used for, where it would have been handled and if it does not have the right aged look in the right places, stay away from it.There are 3 sellers known to me who list supposedly antique beadwork pieces on ebay which are direvt copies of items from famous collections. They're well beaded, but, the age of the fronts of these pieces does not correspond with the age of the rest of the pieces ( the tops of the interior flaps on the strike a lites, for instance, shows no wear) and these sellers are getting hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for these fakes. When a great, real piece can be consigned to a gallery for thousands of dollars, ask yourself why it would be offered on ebay for a starting bid of under $100. The adage that if it looks too good to be true is as relevant as the warning that a sucker is born every minute and there are several sellers, with good feedback who are counting on your lack of experience to sell their fakes. In conclusion, do your research, ask to see larger, up close and detailed photos of listed items before you bid, and always ask for a written statement of age and authenticity when you buy so you have recourse in the event that the item is not real.
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