Navajo Silver Headstall

Navajo Silver Headstall


Navajo Silver Headstall and Iron Chain-tiered Ringbit


Region / Tribe: Southwest, Arizona / Navajo

Circa: 1870's

Material: Silver, commercial leather, iron,copper

Dimension: H. 34 1/4" x L. 6 1/2" x W. 6"

Condition: Overall excellent; rich patina, wear patterns consistent with long and continuous use, one break through hide foundation, no restoration

Collection History:  

-Acquired in the early 1970's, Ex Col. Tom Mudd, New Mexico

-Ex Col. Larry Frank, Arroyo Honda, New Mexico

-E. Helene Sage Col. Tesuque, New Mexico. (Scholar, collector and author of Native American Horse Gear, A Golden Age of Equine-Inspired Art of the Nineteenth Century,  Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012)

Published: Frank, Larry. Indian Silver Jewelry of the Southwest 1868 - 1930. New York Graphic Society, 1978, illustrated and described on p.183. (This text was republished by Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1990, this headstall is prominently featured in a color montage of Navajo silverwork on the cover.)


This is an extremely important example of an early Navajo made silver headstall showing major influences from the Spanish Southwest and Southern Plains. The silver embellishments are mounted on heavy strips of repurposed commercial leather. The large silver conchas with sunburst designs are filed and chiseled. The elements of the conchas were made separately and riveted together rather than soldered as in later examples. The edges of the conchas are perforated in the fashion of Spanish blacksmiths. The thin flat silver panels are rocker engraved in the Southern Plains fashion. The rocker engraving includes a complex floral-sunburst on the headband mirroring the sunburst design on the chiseled conchas. Additional quatrefoil rocker designs embellish the oval pieces and the edges of all the side panels are rocker engraved in linear designs. The silver headband has a perforated and scalloped ridge and an extended loop below for a pendent Naja now missing.

The Navajo hand-forged iron ring-bit is a period example. It is considered one of the finest Navajo made examples known. The dense layers of chain and danglers would have added a musical accompaniment to the visual display of shining silver and iron. The Navajo learned and adapted the techniques for making iron bits from Mexican blacksmiths.

This is a well known, frequently cited and legendary example of this most complex form of Navajo silversmithing. The anonymous Navajo artist revealed in this masterpiece its proud owner's wealth, prestige and high regard for their most prized mount.

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