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How to Identify Antique Native American Artifacts and Artwork

Antique beaded items.

Tips to identify antique vs reproduction pieces of Native American art and craftwork.

Older items will show their age in specific ways. Things to look for:

  1. Wear in the right places
  2. Changes in color from light and air exposure
  3. Bug damage
  4. Metal will have small dings or scratches and aged patina
  5. Small breaks and tears in materials
  6. Antique beads are much less uniform than newer Czech beads
  7. The item is only as old as the newest material used.


Native Americans originally made jewelry from natural materials such as bone, quill, stones, antlers, and shells. Eventually glass beads and silver were incorporated into pieces. By the late 1700s most tribes had started using glass beads from Europe. As Native American jewelry became popular for the tourist industry materials from all over the world were used. When looking to identify antique Native American jewelry, look for wear in the materials, metal should have some scratches and dings in it. The metal can have dull or worn patina. Very little turquoise was used in early pieces, and they were usually unmarked. Read more on how to identify real turquoise.


Antique Native American Beadwork will show wear in the materials used and beads from the correct time for that piece. You can often tell the authenticity of a piece by the colors of the beads. Many colors we have now were not available 100 years ago. Look in between the beads to see the fading that would happen over time. A consistent muted patina can be a red flag that the piece is not legitimately old. Also, many styles of beads are no longer being made… So make sure the beads used match the age of the piece. Also look at what was used to sew the piece together. Real sinew would be used to make antique beadwork and reproduction pieces are often made with imitation sinew.

Fabrics and Leather

Antique clothing and accessories will have wear in the right places for that specific piece. Older leather becomes fragile with age.  Many items will have bug damage on fabrics such as wool. Paint on rawhide will have fading and will have rubbed off in the places it would have been handled. Any quill work on the material will have a matte look to it and a worn or dusty look in between the quills. You can look at the stitching of a piece as well – if it was made with real or imitation sinew.


Baskets Antique Native American basket.

Look at the materials. Older baskets will have a smooth as opposed to rough surface which indicates wear. There may be breaks in the materials as well. The coloring may be faded on the parts of the basket that are exposed to light but still bright on the bottom or inside of the basket/container. The patina should also be muted, having a dusty look as opposed to bright and shiny. Many materials will turn darker with age with exposure to light and from oxidation.