Fred Harvey Collectibles Evoke Nostalgia for a Bygone Age of American Tourism

Fred Harvey Collectibles Evoke Nostalgia for a Bygone Age of American Tourism

By Paula A. Baxter

Travel hospitality and tourist souvenirs were the watchword of the Fred Harvey Company, and this Midwestern business company helped promote the allure of leisure touring at the time when the great railroads were opening the West to those who wanted to visit.

Fred Harvey (1835-1901) was British-born and sought entrepreneurial success in America’s opening frontier. He started his first “Harvey House” restaurant in Kansas in 1875. When the old Santa Fe Railroad incorporated into the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, gaining access through scenic country in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the Fred Harvey Company built restaurants, hotels, and depots along its route. By 1926, Harvey hospitality operations catered to WPA motorists who traveled the newly established Route 66.

The Fred Harvey Company also became a vendor for tourist goods and souvenirs. Harvey’s family had become interested in the Native peoples of the region, and by 1901 Harvey’s son-in-law was in charge of the Fred Harvey Indian Department, which managed, among other things, an Indian Museum at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Harvey Company involvement in Indian arts included arranging for tourists to have access to and purchase genuine Indian arts direct from the maker, and stocking inexpensive (manufactured) lightweight Indian jewelry and trinkets for those who wanted souvenirs that were easy to carry souvenirs.

The Harvey Company decorated hotels and their integrated railroad station dining rooms and curio shops with Southwestern motifs such as the thunderbird; this creature, based on the Pueblo Indian rain bird design, became the Company’s copyrighted motif in 1909. Harvey “Indian Detours” took tourists in motorbuses to not only the Grand Canyon but also Indian pueblo villages. The white female guides who conducted these tours were usually decked out in quantities of bead and silver necklaces, turquoise earrings and bracelets, and multiple rings.

The Fred Harvey Company became successful purveyors of commercially made paper goods and modestly priced metal tourist jewelry. In the early twentieth century, most white people, like photographer Edwin Curtis, believed that the Indians were doomed to vanish, the victims of assimilation into a dominant mainstream culture. This attitude made it easy to patronize and romanticize these “noble savages.”

The Navajo and Pueblo peoples were the main producers of Southwestern Native jewelry, although the Pueblo design aesthetic was the one most often utilized by the Harvey Company. Harvey Company employees found the Pueblo Indians to be more colorful in dress and dances, although Navajo ingenuity was also admired. Many Native men worked in the curio stores of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Fred Harvey Company paper products reflect the romanticized vision of the Southwestern Indians. Illustrated in this article are two forms of souvenir items, a brochure on “Indian and Mexican Handicraft” and a booklet. The brochure depicts three typical souvenir items: a Hopi katsina doll carved from cottonwood, a Pueblo water pot, and a Mexican mask; the last page shows ads for the Indian Shop at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe and the Hopi House at El Tovar (Grand Canyon), and an illustration of a Navajo silversmith working his primitive handmade forge. The small book “Indians of the Southwest” was one edition of a series of souvenir publications containing twenty color prints.

The Harvey Company also produced color postcards that featured Harvey buildings or pictures of Indians at work on crafts. Between 1905 and 1924, Harvey worked with the Detroit Publishing Company, a leader in mass market postcard production; they utilized a form of photo color processing known as Photocrom, which eventually became outdated by newer and cheaper techniques. The famous photographer William Henry Jackson created popular images for the Harvey Company.

Two representative postcards show Hopi House and a Hopi weaver working inside the building. Hopi House was the work of Mary Colter, one of the region’s most accomplished architects. The stone structure was created to look like a terraced Pueblo building. Hopi House sits on an area of ground in front of the imposing El Tovar Hotel. The Harvey Company established Indians at work in and outside Hopi House, favoring Hopi dancers, potters, and male weavers.

Harvey Tourist Era Jewelry Remains a Popular Collectible

Out of all Harvey Company sponsored crafts, Harvey is best known for the commercial Indian jewelry they sold. While technically there is no such thing as “Fred Harvey jewelry,” the Company became the most successful distributor of these souvenir goods. Manufactured between 1900 and 1955 in such far flung locations as New York, Denver, and Los Angeles, this jewelry is distinctively tourist era vintage adornment, and correctly known as Fred Harvey tourist era jewelry. While earrings, pendants and rings were made, tourist era bracelets have aroused the greatest interest. Helpfully, these pieces were made in great volume and have survived well to the present.

The commercial pieces were smaller, more lightweight, and more fully decorated than the silver and turquoise bracelets worn by the Indians themselves. Some jewelry was made with copper, a material used by the locals. Yet silver was the metal of choice among the Navajo and Pueblo of the Southwest, and the manufacturers settled on a lesser grade of silver for most pieces. Designs were chosen to emphasize the “Indian-ness” of the cuff and exploited as so-called “Indian symbols.”

A generic extension of Indian imagery prevailed; pieces displayed crossed arrows, horses, and arrowheads. The most notable design was the swastika motif. White entrepreneurs liked its resemblance to the European swastika, although the design was derived from an ancient “whirling logs” pattern used in sand painting. By 1938, however, Indians were asked to refrain from using this motif; several tribes signed pledges to do so as a patriotic part of America’s rejection of Nazism.

These bracelets were made in children’s sizes as well as for adults. When we look at popular styles, they reflect the same features as the works hand wrought by Indians. A typical Indian bracelet was composed of a silver band or cuff, which was then decorated by stamps pressed into the metal or the silversmith’s use of repousse (bumping up the metal into ridges or symmetrical forms) and appliqué (the addition of decorative balls and shapes to the metal surface). Pairing silver cuffs with turquoise or other natural stones of the region was common and the Fred Harvey motif of rain bird, or thunderbird, was often added. Popular Native lapidary styles, often Pueblo in origin, placed multiple stones in various patterns on the band. Butterfly cluster, needlepoint, and curved petitpoint stonework flattered feminine wrists.

The Fred Harvey Company is most famous in popular culture as the inspiration for the 1936 MGM musical “The Harvey Girls,” starring Judy Garland. The Company’s glory days faded after World War II and the business was sold to Amfac in 1968, Amfac was later subsumed by the hospitality giant Xanterra. The market for Harvey era jewelry has undergone a slight boom in the last five years, and the average price for a collectible bracelet in good shape (a key factor) runs between $100 and $200 on eBay. These bangles reflect nostalgia for the early years of American rail and road travel.

Paula A. Baxter’s book Southwestern

Indian Bracelets: The Essential Cuff (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2015) was published in April. Baxter is also the author of The Encyclopedia of Native American Jewelry, Southwest Silver Jewelry, and Southwestern Indian Rings. Formerly an art librarian and curator in New York City, Baxter is an adjunct professor of humanities at Berkeley College, a metro NYC area business college with campuses in New Jersey and New York. Her website contains short essays on Indian arts and short fiction about the people of Indian Country.

Photographs by Barry Katzen.  
Items courtesy of Steve Delzio, Somers, New York.

Fred Harvey Collectibles Evoke Nostalgia for a Bygone Age of American Tourism