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Trade Bead Encyclopedia/History

CHEVRONS (ROSETTAS): In the African trade chevrons were one of the most prized and traded beads. They were made in Venice, 1500’s to 1900’s. They were molded with several layers of glass revealing beautiful patterns with starburst designs on the ends. The 7 layered chevron is one of the oldest. A common color layering pattern was translucent green, white, blue, white, red, white, and blue. There were variations in their colors, sizes and the number of layers.
WATERMELON BEADS: These are a variation on a chevron bead, but they are more of a pinched shape on the ends, giving the watermelon appearance. They come in a variety of striped colors.
MILLEFIORE TRADE BEAD: “Mille” means 1000 and “fiore” means flowers. This bead was popularly traded in Africa. It was made in Venice, 1800’s to early 1900’s. The beads were made with slices of glass cane. The designs have a mosaic look. They are known for their lovely floral patterns. The older glass ones have become very valuable to collectors. They were made in a very wide range of colors, floral patterns, sizes and shapes. There are newer versions being made in India and the Czech Republic. In Africa and China there is a lot of millefiore being made in the polymer clay medium which has become very popular.
PADRE BEADS (PEKING GLASS): These beads were highly traded during the fur trade era. They were made of glass were used in Chinese court costumes during the Ching Dynasty, 1640’s to early 1900’s. They were traded on the Chinese border and out of Europe for the American Indian Trade. In the American Southwest, American Northwest and Alaska they became known as the padre bead. The padre bead was made with a wound glass technique and most popular in the turquoise color; but was also made in red, white, black, yellow, clear, and cobalt. These beads were varied in size. In 1778 Captain James Cook (an English explorer) wrote in his journal that it was difficult to obtain supplies and furs from the Pacific Coast Indians with out this particular blue (turquoise) bead. It was also known as the “chief bead”. It was called the padre bead because it was worn by the Spanish priests, or “padres”. Peking glass beads were also known to be made by employing the millefiore process with starburst designs. Their sizes and shapes vary. There was also European production of wound padre beads.
WHITE HEARTS (CORNALINE D’ ALEPPO): These beads were also traded during the fur trade era. In the mid-1800’s they became known as Hudson Bay beads. They had two distinct colors of glass – one layered over the other. The outer layer was red and the inside layer was green, yellow, or white. The newer versions of the Hudson Bay beads are known as white hearts and have a white inner layer and a clear glass exterior from the range of the rainbow colors. Sizes and shapes vary. They are made today in France, Czech Republic, and India.
VASELINE (CAVE AGATE): Originally Bohemian made, this bead was also widely traded during the fur trade era, mid to late 1800’s. It was made in a variety of colors. It was pressed, faceted, transparent or opaque. The oldest made Vaseline beads have truncated holed, (made with a hot poker), and have irregular facets. Some of the early ones were made with uranium so they fluoresce under a black light. Some of these old colors have become very valuable to collectors. Today a few of these beads are still made in the Czech Republic and still enter the African Trade. They are made in a variety of gorgeous colors that are still highly prized by collectors and hobbyists.
RUSSIAN BLUES: Originally Russian blues were made in Bohemia. They really don’t have a lot to do with Russia. They were actually shipped across Russia to China where they were faceted. The faceted blue beads were then shipped to Alaska and down the North American Coast and into the North American “Northwest”. They appeared in Alaska just prior to the 1870’s. They were popularly traded during the fur trade era. They are glass beads known for their numerous and irregular facets, and blue coloring; transparent and opaque. There were deviations in the number of facets and they were made in white, light blue, and black. The old ones are collectible. Today the new Russian blues, (glass faceted Russian cuts), are known for their beauty. They are made in the Czech Republic in a variety of sizes and colors in fine glass that the Czech Republic is known for.
EYE BEADS: For thousands of years beads have been made depicting eyes. This has been true in various cultures. The “eye” bead is supposed to be worn to ward off evil. It’s related to the common human characteristic of being unable to lie or do harm to others while looking them in the eye. Some of the old ones are becoming collectible.
TRADE WIND BEADS: These beads got their name for the sea winds that carried the trade boats on the seas. They were made in India, South East Asia, and Sri Lanka from 300 B.C. to about 1000 A.D. They were made in a variety of colors. They were used in ceremonies in the islands of Eastern Indonesia. Beads that were traded in Asia have been found in West Africa, the Roman Empire and the Middle East.
VENETIAN FANCY: These were made in the 1600’s to the early 1900’s in Venice for the African Trade and also for the Americas and Asia. Hot glass was trailed and decorated while working at a bead maker’s lamp. It was kind of like cake decorating. The technique employed all kinds of design variations. These old beads have become very valuable and expensive to old bead collectors.
BEAD TRIVIA FACT: In 1291 the citizens of Rialto, Italy became outraged with the local bead makers because of the fire dangers that bead production created. The building structures were all made of wood and susceptible of burning. And bead makers used plenty of fire. The bead makers were told that they had to move their operations to the island of Murano, Italy to spare Rialto. The bead guilds made sure trade secrets were closely guarded and craftsmen were sworn to secrecy under the penalty of death. As a result there is little documentation of their bead making techniques and the places where they did their manufacturing. By the 16th century Murano became known as the center and heart of bead and glass production. By this time beads had become a major trade item with Africa and the Americas.
BEAD TRIVIA FACT: The Vikings are known for their admiration of glass beads. There is archeological evidence that indicates that they imported glass canes to make mosaic/millefiore beads in addition to other designs. Record of bead-maker workshops have been found in Scandinavia from the 9th and 10th centuries. Vikings are known for “sword beads” – their beautifully adorned swords with beads of the day.
BEAD TRIVIA FACT: Egyptians were the first culture to use glass to imitate precious stones such as turquoise and lapis lazuli. Their glass beads were opaque and made as early as 2181-2160 B.C. Their larger commercial market developed around 1400 B.C.
Before its fall Egypt held the monopoly on glass bead making in the world.


DRAWN BEADS: A bubble is formed in a blob of hot molten glass and stretched out very, very thin on the end of a metal tube. This process makes a hot glass tube that is cut into smaller sections forming beads. The bubble becomes the hole in the center. The end edges can be polished or worn down.

CANES: Solid lengths of hot glass are formed by drawing then cutting the hot glass into the length desired. Varied colors and patterns were created by taking cross sections of the canes and fusing these cross sections to the outer side of the bead. They also use lengths of the canes which result in a striped design.

LAMPWORK: Lampwork beads are made on a metal rod called a mandrel. Molten glass is wound on the rod and decorated with varying techniques and colors. Then they are then put into a kiln to heat all parts evenly and then are annealed (allowed to cool slowly) to reduce the stress in the bead. After the bead is cooled it is removed from the mandrel.

CORE FORMED: Formed by stretching and gathering hot molten glass around a core support or a rod. When it becomes cool the core is scraped out. The inside of the bead does not end up completely filled with glass, so the bead is much lighter than it would be otherwise.

FEATHERED OR RAKED: Different colors of glass are applied in lines on the bead and then dragged across the beads surface. This creates a feathered effect.

FAIENCE: The oldest unnatural and artificial substance. It was probably made 5,500 years ago. It had a core of quartz particles that became fused together. A glazy substance is applied over this on the bead. Faience tends to lose their glazy look.

PRESSED: Hot molten glass is poured into a mold and then pressed and formed. Beads made in this fashion have a middle seam or line around the middle that is sometimes ground and polished smooth.

TRUNCATED: This refers to holes made in glass beads by using a hot poker. Because the hot poker is thinner at one end than the other, the hole is wider on one side of the bead than the other. This technique was used in the 1800’s.

FOLDED (TORUS): Layers of molten glass are folded over and over. This makes a patterned lumpy bead.

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