Trade Bead Information

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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.
To learn more about “trade beads” please read, The History of Beads (Dubin), Collectable Beads(Liu), Ornaments From the Past: Bead Studies After Beck (Bead Study Trust), The Bead Is Constant (Wilson), Arizona Highways (July1971), Africa Adorned (Fisher) and the John and Ruth Picard series of books; Volume III – Fancy Beads from the West African Trade, Volume IV – White Hearts, Feather and Eye Beads from the West African Trade, VolumeV – Russian Blues, Faceted and Fancy Beads from the West African Trade, Volume VI – Millefiori Beads from the West African Trade and Volume VII – Chevron and Nueva Cadiz Beads.
There are exceptional museum collections of trade beads at the Museum of Mankind in London, the Pitt River Museum in Oxford, the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium, the Murano Museum of Glass in Italy, the Tropical Royal Institute of Amsterdam, the Bead Museum in Arizona, US and the Picard Trade Bead Museum in California, US to name a few.
One of the most intriguing aspects to these beads is how they have survived a hundred or more years of wear and the travel through at least three continents. Another mystery is who wore them before us who will have them next…….after us.

Recommended Reading: COLLECTABLE BEADS (Liu)
All content, including pictures, Copyright Africa Direct Inc., 2006
3 Rare old Venetian beads. BEAUTIFUL! Florals and Ghosts. Late 1800s. All in excellent condition.
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.
These beads are known as Hudson Bay Trade Beads. They were made in Europe in the 18th and early 19th century and used extensively to trade with Indians, first by the Hudson Bay Company in the East and Canada to trade for furs. Later, more traders used them and when the West was opened, they were used to trade for buffalo pelts. They are very distinctive with a white core and red outer layer. They are hand made and every one is slightly different for size and shape. These date to about 1820-30 and average about 1/4″ (5.9 mm) which is large and are medium red which is an early shade. There are 15 which string to about 3″. These are a real slice of Americana (and Canadiana). These are the legendary “wampum” of the early frontiers. 29A16 (1)

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Thank you for viewing my auction. I am now selling over a thousand items which I purchased in the 1950’s-80, at the London auctions, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillip’s (now Bonham’s). Much of it is ancient jewelry which was assembled in the Victorian period from elements found in the archeological excavations of that period. They were widely publicized and wearing such jewelry was fashionable for the elite. Because they reassembled and in most cases incomplete, we are selling the individual elements so more collectors can enjoy them. We were inspired to do so by Robert Liu’s statement in Collectable Beads, that the average collector will be unable to own a single ancient bead. Each is certified authentic.

The Pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution and lived simple lives rewarded by their strong faith. The early years were hard and native Americans readily assisted by sharing their knowledge and, as needed, food. There was scarce little to give in return, but a single outstanding commodity of the Pilgrim era was the bicolored glass beads produced in Venice and marketed in England to transatlantic shippers. A green core jacketed in a dull red gave them an appearance reminiscent of the shell beads made by the Narragansett Indians, the original wampum. This design later evolved into the “Hudson Bay White Heart” beads which became the currency of the fur trade starting with the great expansion after the War of 1812. For auction are four of these original green heart “wampum” beads dating to the 1600’s or very early 1700’s. They are about 7.7 mm (3/10″) in diameter and now a little oxidized from age making the core appear dark, however the green is clearly visible if held to a light. Condition is as shown. 61A7 (1)

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Today, we think of Indians as gullible to trade furs and other commodities for beads, but that is not true. Until recently, beads, because of the labor involved in producing them, were very expensive. In the American West, forts such as Fort Laramie were originally private trading posts, fortified because of the value of the trade good within, primarily beads. This is a group of 20 yellow glass beads made in Europe about 1750 and shipped to America for trade with the Indians. They are entirely hand made and vary considerably, even for shape. They average over 5.1 mm (under 1/4″). These very beads were an integral part of the development of America as settlers worked in harmony with Native Americans, sharing and exchanging goods, talents and knowledge. They are historical collector’s items and would make a fine addition to any modern jewelry creation. 33A16 (1)
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BLUE PADRE TRADE BEADS were was first made in 1500 A.D. The Vikings, Columbus, Jesuit Priests and Lewis & Clark all brought glass beads for trade with Native American Indians just look at these beauties, all with great patina and in excellent shape

These beads would make a great addition to your collection


About Suzanne

Suzanne Lewis, editor and manager since 2000. Suzanne is a Planetary Peacekeeper, an Agent for Conscious Evolution, a Spiritual Healer, a Mother, a multi - faceted artist (beads, gems to trade beads; guords star seed art; published author and Lover of Life for the sake of All our Relations.
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