The continuous trading between Indian groups and the Europeans who settled in America led to the reintroduction of coral into the indigenous market. Now it was no longer a question of the occasional rosary beads imported by the Spaniards in the 17th century but rather a full-scale operation in which the Italian companies specialising in coral played a leading role. Throughout the period in which the Indians lived in contact with the Spaniards they had come to prize the red coral of the Mediterranean, valuing it as highly as other precious stones.
In his account entitled Three years among the Indians and Mexicans General Thomson James records that "on the day of the celebrations (5 February1822) in San Felipe, a small Indian town 50 miles south of Santa Fe... a great crowd of people ...were adorned with coral beads of a brilliant red color ...... red coral was worth a hundred dollars per avoirdupois pound". In 1858 we learn from a report by the Federal troops that a Zuni Indian killed a Navajo woman and took her necklace of red coral worth $200, together with other precious stones particularly prized by the Indians, such as "only the rich" could afford. From the middle of the 19th century an important group of European and American businessmen had grown up in the Southwest dealing in imported products such as coral. These dealers played a vital role in the development of the artistic style of the Indians. They sought out the best local talents, encouraging them and promoting the sales of their creations. For the Navajos in particular their artistic evolution was crucial in establishing a fruitful relationship with both the Anglo-American dealers and the other native groups.
The company of S.A. Frost's Son, New York, founded in 1858 and importing products specifically for "Indian Traders", had close ties with the Genoese merchant Raffaele Costa in the closing decades of the 19th century. We find interesting annotations revealing the preferences of the Indians for certain specific types of coral in the correspondence now conserved in the archives of the renowned Torre firm of Basilio Liverino. The correspondence between Costa and American importers was acquired by the Cavalier Liverino as part of his purchase of the effects of the Genoese firm in the 1960s, an initiative which can be seen as part of the handing over of the tradition of coral working from Genoa to their counterparts in Torre del Greco. For example, a letter dated 22 April 1902 reads: hope you will send me dark red coral as I have repeatedly requested: that's what the Indians want. The pink shades are suitable for trade with the Whites, but the Indians only buy the dark type, so
l beg you not to send me any of the necklaces 996, 786, 1013, 1063, 938, 1006 in pink but all in intense rich red. Some thirteen years later, on 13 May 1913: "... l'm sorry, you have sent me the 2/8, 3 strands no. 3360. I don't think I’Il be able to sell them because they are too light in color for sale to the Indians and not the right shade for the Whites". In the Customs Regime for Coral in the United States for the year 1906, sent to Raffaele Costa by the Camera di Commercio ed Arti in Genoa at his specific request, we learn that prized coral imported into the USA was subject to import tax at the rate of 10% on the declared value. In those years there was a " resurgence in the use of jewelry" and "it is hoped it will prove possible to develop an industry for its manufacture in the United States". Furthermore, according to Federal statistics "the importing of crafted coral in the years 1904-1905 amounted to about 11,000 dollars, 4000 of which from Italy...and 3000 for raw coral". Frost was not the only dealer in the old West to stimulate the creativity of the natives by importing coral from ltaly. C.G. Wallace too fostered the development of this handicraft and had a considerable influence on the production of jewels. In 1927 he acquired his “trading post" in the Zuni village.
He championed the use of innovative techniques such as channel work and the use of coral in inlay works among the Zuni and Navajo craftsmen resident at Zuni, promoting collaboration between the two groups. It was Wallace who started to import coral directly from Italy for the Indians, without the mediation of Frost. During the Depression of 1930 Wallace created an economic holding for numerous artists and acquired a large number of the natives' products, transforming the creations of the Zunis from a regional into a national phenomenon. A letter dated 27 February 1937 sent by Wallace to the firm of Costa in Genoa confirms an order for four coral necklaces for a combined value of 48 dollars, specifying that he wants necklaces containing only large beads, "as large as the largest in the necklaces ordered". In further correspondence dated 13 January 1940 Wallace asked to know the prices for coral necklaces, which in his reply Costa quotes as 14 dollars each, a considerable sum for that period. Wallace’s efforts undoubtedly contributed to increase the number of craftsmen to about a thousand (jewellers, potters, and sculptors of fetishes) in a population of 9000 residents in Zuni. I Coral became an important resource in the economy of the Navajos and Zunis. In the 1940s it featured in exchanges for horses, cows, and sheep, and also as a pawn pledge, like silver and other precious materials, as well as in heirlooms. Chee Dodge, the first spokesperson of the Navajo Tribal Council, who died in 1947, owned one of the longest and most striking necklaces made up of coral beads of an intense red.
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