JS sends me a figure of an abstracted spread-winged Thunderbird, pictured in an oval necklace made of copper of about 3 inches long. This is a piece from a Fred Harvey Gift Shop: this type of tourist art was, and is, a slice of American travel history. So much so that some collectors for this material refer to it as “Fred Harvey Jewelry.” Fred Harvey Company copyrighted the Thunderbird design in 1909. Of course, that was then, and this is now. You can’t really copyright a design long used by the Northwest Native American Culture. But this is a story beginning in 1900, when such things were done.
I remember the legacy of Fred Harvey eateries, whose restaurants hung temptingly over the Illinois Highways of my childhood. We traveled every summer to Lake of the Ozarks in dad’s huge avocado station wagon; we four kids had milkshakes, and bought souvenirs, with dad’s money, in such restaurants.
At the turn of the last century, Fred developed a brand of traveler’s havens that were revolutionary in their day: these restaurants were inexpensive, fast, efficient, and all-American. Fred Harvey, however, was British.
Although collectors of this type of jewelry use his name for what appears to be Native American jewelry, Fred Harvey (1835-1901) was born in London. In a significant way in the early 20th century it took a Britisher to popularize American travel in the West. Our early tourist trade centered around our growing railway lines. Fred noticed, and concentrated his talents on feeding tourists along the route.
Fred’s was the archetypal American success story. He sailed to the US at the age of 15 and washed dishes in restaurants in NYC. There, he observed the American restaurant until he turned 41, when he formed an agreement with a Topeka railway depot to serve passengers. There, he cleaned up a restaurant and developed a 35 cent hearty menu for breakfast, concluding with a big slice of apple pie. So successful was his Topeka venture that the Sante Fe Railway allowed him to operate restaurants on the AT and SF railway route. He opened 17 lunchrooms, “Harvey Houses” staffed by nice looking American waitresses in pristine white aprons.
The managers of these restaurants noticed that Native American artisans would offer wares to tourists, so in 1880 the Fred Harvey Comany developed their own trading posts, and distributed jewelry making supplies to Native American craftspeople who traded back. In 1880, the restaurants flourished and expanded in 1888 to the operation of dining cars on the Sante Fe railway, a contract held until 1898. Once well fed, tourists would buy.
The Fred Harvey Company appointed Herman Schweizer as the head of “Indian Jewelry:” he distributed die-cut silver, nickel, copper, and turquoise to Native craftspeople: collectors call what resulted ‘railroad jewelry,’ as distinguished from original Native American jewelry.
Fred died at 65: his son Ford (aptly named) took over in 1920, and landed a concession contract for the Grand Canyon National Park. That’s where this type of jewelry really took off. Expanding into National Park concessions, a visit to a park included a visit to a Harvey “Indian” trading post. First, it was Meisel’s Indian Trading post, then the Bell Trading Company (1932-1972, operated by Jack and Mildred Michelson). Both suppliers were based in Albuquerque. You’ll find them stamped with a bell shaped hallmark: when Meisel and Bell merged, they used a hanging signpost hallmark.
The Fred Harvey Company created a market for a lightweight tourist grade “Indian Jewelry,” popularized to the extent that in 1972 Bell Trading Company offered a wide line of “Indian” material, including moccasins. I believe my dad bought me a pair of those in Yosemite. Under the logo of Sunbell, jewelry was made by a Harvey affiliate for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The main artisans were said to be Navajo.
As fascinating as the story of Harvey provenance is, there's an unmistakable flavor of cultural co-opting. These bracelets, pins, bookmarks, necklaces, and rings had their own symbols. Remember Herman Schweizer, the “Indian Jewelry” head? He developed symbolic markings and images for the jewelry, not sourced from Native American culture, on a handy Harvey chart. For example, the image of a lasso “meant” captivity. The image of a Thunderbird, in Fred Harvey iconography, “meant” the “sacred bearer of happiness unlimited.” It says so on the Harvey chart. How ‘original;’ yet this piece of American culture shows our best as marketing geniuses, and at our colonial worst, too. JS’s piece is worth $75 to a collector.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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