You have probably seen a lot of old, vintage, and contemporary jewelry go through our auctions and in our gallery here at Western Trading Post. We spend a tremendous amount of time researching these different items and trying to find out as much as possible about each piece. Hallmarks (a mark or stamp signifying who the maker is), on the jewelry are a very important aspect in identifying the maker and approximate date of when the piece was made. One of the main resources we use here at Western Trading Post for identifying hallmarks is Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks (4th Edition) by Bille Hougart. This amazing book is recognized worldwide and is an asset to anyone who is involved, or interested in, Native American and Southwestern jewelry.
Bille and his beautiful wife Sue stopped by the trading post the other day and we had a chance to visit with them. Bille is a researcher, writer, editor, and wildlife biologist. He has written several books, including: 100 Collectible Native American Silversmiths and their Hallmarks, The Little Book Of Mexican Silver Trade And Hallmarks, The Native American Silver Jewelry RENAISSANCE 1938-1948 and Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks. All of these books are available for purchase. Bille has made a huge impact on the Native American and Southwestern Jewelry industry by sharing more about the artists and their masterpieces, so it was a true honor getting to learn more about the man behind these incredible books!
Bobbi Jeen: Why did you become so passionate about researching hallmarks?
Bille: It evolved as a hobby and became a never-ending challenge.
Bobbi Jeen: What is the average amount of time it takes to do all the research for one of your books?
Bille: 3-4 years.
Bobbi Jeen: When did the first hallmarks start appearing?
Bille: For Native American silver, in the 1920s.
Bobbi Jeen: What were some of the first hallmarks?
Bille: Juan de Dios, Morris Robinson, Ralph Tawangyouma, and Fred Peshlakai come to mind.
Bobbi Jeen: Why did artists start hallmarking their work?
Bille: I don’t know exactly why the early ones did, but I believe pressure from purchasers and/or dealers encouraged many to sign their work.
Bobbi Jeen: Is it common to see older pieces (prior to 1970s) unmarked?
Bille: Absolutely, although most Hopi work (post WWII GI classes—after 1948) is almost always marked.
Bobbi Jeen: Should people be cautious about buying a new piece of Native American or Southwestern jewelry that does not have a hallmark?
Bille: Unmarked new pieces call for a second look for sure.
Bobbi Jeen: We hear a lot about items that are sold as “Native American Made” yet are foreign made. What are some things we can look for when purchasing authentic Native American made items?
Bille: Tricky business, but a little homework can help. Often foreign-made copies of, say Zuni inlay work, isn’t finished well ...may be sloppy or poorly fitted. Frequently inlay materials on overseas copies are made using bits of cut plastic and not the materials used in Native work.
Bobbi Jeen: What are some of the things buyers should look for when buying for an “investment” while still being able to enjoy the items?
Bille: I always examine a piece carefully to be sure it pleases me to look at it....is in balance, is it made with care and is it finished well...then I look to see if there’s a hallmark. If there isn’t one, I look carefully again at construction, patina, and wear and try to get a feel about age.
Bobbi Jeen: What has been your greatest reward from the books you’ve written so far?
Bille: Walking into a shop and seeing some of my books in use, or, as has happened more than a few times, watching someone use my book(s) in an antique mall.
Bobbi Jeen: Who has been your biggest supporter thus far?
Bille: Sue, of course!
Bobbi Jeen: Did you realize how many lives you were going to touch with your books?
Bille: Not in my wildest dreams!
Bobbi Jeen: What are you working on now?
Bille: I’m finishing the 5th edition of Native American and Southwestern Silver Hallmarks, then I hope to do some short articles and/or blogs.
Bobbi Jeen: Where can people purchase your books?
Bille: On my website, www.BilleHougartBooks.com, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and eBay.
Bille Hougart, thank you for all you do to educate, inspire, and support others as you go after your own goals and dreams! You definitely lead by example and make a positive difference in many lives and the world around us. Here at Western Trading Post we feel honored to help preserve and perpetuate our rich western history and heritage and to surround ourselves with amazing individuals like Bille and Sue. If you would like to see the live interview, go to Western Trading Post TV on YouTube.