The term “Trade Beads” typically applies to beads made predominately in Venice and Bohemia and other European countries from the late 1400s through to the early 1900s and traded in Africa and the Americas. Many of these beads have been attributed to being made in Germany, France and the Netherlands as well.
The heyday of this “trade” period was from the mid 1800s through the early 1900s when millions of these beads were produced and traded in Africa. The Venetians dominated this market and produced the majority of the beads sold during this time. The J.F. Sick and Co, based in Germany and Holland was one of the largest bead brokers/importers during this period. Moses Lewin Levin was a bead importer/exporter who operated out of London from 1830 to 1913. You can see 4 of the Levin trade bead sample cards from 1865 in The History of Beads (Dubin)
The popularity of these beads was revived in the late 1960s when they began to be exported from Africa into the United States and Europe. The term “Trade Beads” became very popular during this time period and is still used for the same bead reference today. The millefiori beads were also called “Love Beads” and used in necklaces with peace symbols during the Hippie days.
As the popularity and availability of these old beads grew they started getting “named”. We started hearing terms like “Russian Blues”, “Dutch Donuts”, “King Beads”. Although some of these folklore names are totally meaningless…ie….”Lewis and Clarke” beads, they do describe a specific type of bead.
And today these beads are more popular and collectable than ever. Thousands of these beads are in private collections around the world. The African Traders are having to go deeper and deeper into Africa to find more of these beads and many styles which were readily available just 5 years ago are no longer seen today.