Bell Trading Post Company (Est. 1935 – 1980?) One of the most important, influential, and beneficial forces that contributed to the popularity, acceptance, and desirability of Native American (specifically Southwestern) jewelry came from a non-jeweler. Fred Harvey, founder of the Harvey Houses that became popular in the late 19th Century, brought visitors in and housed them.
Harvey Houses were filled with tourists and others fascinated with the American West. Many of these visitors wanted to cash in on the West’s rich history and resources and/or explore the area’s indigenous and divergent cultures. Another Harvey business called Indian Detourcars filled the needs of those who wanted a more diverse southwestern experience. As more visitors arrived, there was a big demand for inexpensive tourist trinkets and jewelry.
One of the prime beneficiaries of this influx was the Bell Trading Post Company (sometimes known as, Bell Copper) that was founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1935 by Jack Michelson and his wife Mildred. They sold Native American jewelry at various tourist locations in the southwestern United States until the late 1980s. The Bell Company got its name from Jack’s wife, whose maiden name was Bell.
Bell sold pieces crafted by the Indians. The majority of this jewelry was made from sterling silver, turquoise and, copper. In fact, copper was often used in place of silver. Bell Trading Post produced these tourist intended pieces. Most were made from sterling silver, turquoise and copper.
The types of jewelry sold by Bell Trading included sterling silver, nickel silver, gold, and copper. Over the years numerous hallmarks were used on the items Bell Trading sold. The hallmarks typically included the image of a bell or that of an arrow sign post with a bell sign hanging from it.
From the 1930s to the 1960s, Bell Trading Post hired hundreds of Native American silversmiths to create jewelry intended for sale in shops across the Southwest. Notable pieces include cuffs, bracelets, and pendants.
One cuff bracelet was set with an oval turquoise cabochon with a fancy border surrounding the bezel and had applied ornaments and decorative stamping. Another vintage southwestern nickel silver cuff bracelet from Bell Trading Post incorporated traditional Native American stampings that included an eagle, arrows, sun, mask symbols, and more.
Bell Trading Company’s main competitor was Maisel’s Indian Trading Post. In 1972 the Bell company name was changed to Sunbell Corporation and items including giftware and moccasins were added to the jewelry inventory.Sell Bell Trading Company All Artists