Tuesday, February 16, 2016

African Trade Beads

My recent trip to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show was quite eventful.  I spent some time in the African Village visiting with shop owners from around the globe.  I was focused on buying some African Trade Beads to include in my jewelry designs.  I was pleased with the quality and range of colors available.  

As you walk through the African Village you will find strands and strands of beads in various shapes and sizes.  All this can be a bit overwhelming but it’s worth taking your time and finding the right items for you.   
Trade beads formed an important factor in early trade networks between Europe and Africa.  The beads themselves were typically made in Italy, France, Germany, Bohemia (the Czech Republic) and the Netherlands and were used in trade in Africa.  The beads’ history dates to the 15th century when European trading ships arrived on the coasts of Africa bringing gold, ivory, glass beads and other commodities to this region.  The beads were uncommon in this region and were viewed as precious goods.  The beads were adopted and used as a symbol of status.
I find these beads very intriguing.  There is a certain amount of mystery surrounding these beads such as where the bead came from?  Who was the craftsman?  Are these truly one-of-a-kind or were they mass produced in bead trading houses?   Who designed the beads?  Some museums have information related to these special beads but normally when you speak to the importers they admit it’s hard to know exactly where they originated or how old they are.   
History tells us that in Bohemia glass makings were experts in their craft dating back to the 11th century.  There were famous glass costume jewelry makers in this region.  Think about the masterminds behind these precious collections.  These creative thinkers included alchemists and chemists who produced instructions for not only bead making but different types of glass production; buttons, lampwork beads, glass wares, etc.   

The vibrant colors are typical of African style.  The unique patterns and colors makes collecting these beads fun and interesting.  

This year I bought some African amber resin beads.  Don’t be fooled this is not the fossilized tree resin Amber.  These beads are made by mixing liquid resin with a hardener and color.   They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices.  I also picked up some vinyl beads, glass beads, seed beads and Christmas beads!!   

If you have an opportunity to visit an African trade bead vendor do so.  Ask questions and learn about the amazing journey some of these little beauties have made to get you!

Keep Creating,


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