A HISTORY OF THE PATANIA AND THUNDERBIRD SHOP HALLMARKS
BY FRANK PATANIA JR.
There are many misconceptions and much misinformation about the use of the various “FP” and “Thunderbird” hallmarks appearing on jewelry and other objects made by my father, Frank Patania Sr., myself, my son Sam, and the various craftsmen who worked under us in Santa Fe and Tucson.
I am Frank Jr. I am 77 years old, having been born in Santa Fe in 1932. My two sisters, Joan and Sylvia, and I grew up in the Thunderbird Shop that our father founded in Santa Fe in 1927. My mother’s sister, Mirandi, also was involved in these early shop days. Today she is 95 years old and living in Santa Fe.
In 1937 a second Thunderbird Shop was opened in Tucson, Arizona. My sisters, Mirandi, and I are the oldest living persons associated with the early days. Therefore, in consultation with them, I believe that we are the most qualified to present the history of our hallmarks.
The history, however, is not simple. My dad did not believe that hallmarking his work was very important, so most of his earliest work may not have been hallmarked. On his more important pieces, he would rocker engrave “FP” in a diamond shape on the back of the piece. As the business grew he hired Native American and Hispanic silversmiths to work under his tutelage. Some were experienced in the trade; some were apprentices eager to learn. As the master craftsman he would sketch out the design, select the stones, mostly turquoise, and supervise the construction of the piece. Thus, the “Thunderbird Style” which characterized the work produced under his guidance evolved. Eventually, he decided that the work coming out of the shop should have a hallmark. The “thunderbird” was chosen to represent his Thunderbird Shop and a die was made. Our consensus is that this hallmark was first used in the late 1930’s in conjunction with a “sterling” die.
Later on dad realized the importance of a more personal hallmark, and a conjoined block “FP” was designed and a die made. This was done in the early to mid-1940’s. This mark along with the thunderbird and sterling would be stamped into pieces he made and into pieces that he designed and were made by his craftsmen under his supervision. Thus, the work produced had different combinations using these three dies. The sterling die was used along with the thunderbird and the block FP in various arrangements on the back or bottom of the object. Sometimes only the thunderbird would be stamped with the sterling, or the FP with the sterling, or only the thunderbird itself. Different arrangements of hallmarking were used throughout the years.
In the 1950’s two new hallmark dies were made with the FP inside an oval, sometimes referred to as a “cartouche”. These oval dies were made in two sizes. One die had a block FP cut into the die itself so that when struck the oval was pressed into the metal and the FP remained raised. When the piece was oxidized and polished the oval appears darkened and the FP is bright. This style die usually was used to hallmark more important pieces made by him or under his supervision. The other cartouche die consisted of a thin line oval with a stylized script FP enclosed. When struck, the oval and FP cut into the metal so that when oxidized and polished they appear as thin black lines. My dad created many outstanding works of jewelry and other items, most of these pieces he hallmarked with this thin-line cartouche die.
I learned silversmithing under my dad and as a teenager had become skilled enough to create pieces from start to finish. The pieces I made were hallmarked in the same manner as the other craftsmen’s work. In 1956 I began working full time in the Tucson shop. I started to develop my own styles and techniques, but I continued to use the standard block FP die on my work. After my dad died in 1964 I continued the making of the Thunderbird style jewelry developed by him and our craftsmen continued to work under my direction. The articles made were hallmarked in the usual manner. At this time I designed my own “FP Jr.” hallmark. I used the standard block FP, but with a small chisel I added a horizontal line across the bottom part of the P. The idea for this came from the old guild marks where the guild founder’s mark was added to by each of the succeeding persons heading the guild. In the 1980’s I had my own die made so I didn’t have to use the old die with a line chiseled in. I had these dies made in two sizes.
Through the years a tremendous number of objects were created in our shops. These consisted of various types of jewelry and a great variety of other items including pill boxes to coffee table boxes, demitasse to cocktail spoons, ashtrays and lighters, desk sets and so on. Hundreds of custom orders were done, and monogrammed items such as key chains, buckles, money clips, etc., were particularly popular. Many organizations had items made utilizing their logos to represent membership or to present as awards. All of these items were designed by our three generations and made by our bench workers under our supervision.
As in other well-known designer workshops such as George Jensen and Spratling all work coming out of our workshop had to pass our final approval as to quality of workmanship before being placed in our showcases or presented to our clients.
These pieces were hallmarked with various combinations of the FP, thunderbird, sterling or karat gold hallmarks as I have outlined above.
In the late 1980’s, Sam took charge of the Tucson shop, and long-time master silversmith, Dan Enos, continued to work with him. The standard hallmarking system was continued. Then Sam started to create his own style of work and in 1985 he devised his own hallmark, an “S” with a line passing through the lower part to form a “P”. By 1990 Sam decided to continue the guild mark tradition by conjoining his “S” to the bottom of the Sr. and Jr. FP to represent all three generations in one hallmark. He had a new die made with this arrangement and about 1995 a smaller die to use on gold work.
In 1999 Sam devised two other hallmarking systems. To designate work previously designed by FP Sr. and Jr. but made recently, he added the letter “V” for “vintage” to indicate this was an old design. Also, at that same time Sam needed more time to pursue his own creativity and he moved into a studio. He wanted to continue the tradition of the Patania Thunderbird style, so he had craftsmen working in other shops making these pieces using the original designs. To differentiate these pieces as Patania designs but not made in his own workshop, he designated them as the “Patania Collection”. A die with the three-generation hallmark enclosed within the letter “C” was made to hallmark these pieces. Because Sam discontinued the Collection line shortly thereafter, the Collection hallmark had a limited use of about two years. Jewelry so marked probably will appear on the market from time to time.
The last several years I have noticed in shops, ethnographic, and Indian art shows, and on ebay several pieces of jewelry that were attributed to my father. These pieces have no hallmarks but have some resemblance to his work. But the quality of the workmanship and the subtleties in design details do not compare to his work or work done under his guidance. Also, since I have stated that my father’s earliest work may not have been hallmarked, I have seen un-hallmarked pieces being attributed to him as “probably his early work because it has no hallmark”. These are minor works that I believe were made by craftsmen who may have worked in our shops or on their own made work that was influence by what they had learned there. Therefore, great caution must be exercised in attributing un-hallmarked work to Frank Sr.
I am continuing to research our hallmarking history and revisions may be necessary. This will be done to make this history as accurate as possible.
Frank Patania Jr.