Seminole silversmiths were at their most productive during the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth. Their knowledge of silverworking techniques could derive from one or more of three possible sources: certain silverworking skills might have been retained from prehistoric times, in addition to which the Indian artisans could have been influenced by Calusa work with Spanish coins during the early Historic period, or by military contact and trade with the British.
Copper ceremonial objects from the Mississippi Culture period survive as evidence that the Southeastern Indian people were skilled at metalworking techniques long before the arrival of Europeans. Indeed, Mississippian burial mounds have revealed that the Indians had already developed quite refined metalworking designs and techniques -- as ritual paraphernalia, gorgets, plates, and elaborate hair, ear, and other ornaments of sheet copper, all decorated by embossing, piercing, or incising, amply testify. (Piercing and incising techniques were also employed to create striking symbolic designs on shell or bone.) But native copper had to be brought from the distant Great Lakes region and thus would have been considered an exotic trade good. Silver was rarely used by the natives until the Spanish began introducing small amounts of it in the sixteenth century ( Goggin 1940, 25). The indigenous Calusa people on Florida's west coast made beads, pendants, and breast ornaments from Spanish coin silver, although we do not know whether they applied previously existing skills or were taught new techniques by the Spanish ( Johnson 1976, 93). Salvaged silver from Spanish wrecks off the coast was probably their source of supply.