A Whole Lotta Color Never Hurt

With summer in full force, and now that I'm living in the southwest; I am even more fully appreciative of the depth and value of color - both in my surroundings and in my jewelry! Recently, I have become infatuated with trade beads.

Aren't these antique trade beads just perfect?!  The variation in color on this 32" trade from PeiJadon is just beautiful, $79.

Trade beads were decorative beads that were used between the 16th and 20th century as a form of currency to pay for goods and services.  Made to ease the passage of European explorers and traders - mainly across the African continents and later through North America - the beads were made throughout both Europe, Africa and North America.  

Look at this fabulous 31" strand from PeiJadon, $99.  Personally, I love the ones with tons of
color in them!  They just seem so happy to me & bring a little ray of sunshine.

The production of trade beads became so popular that so many were manufactured that they were used as ballast in ships for the outbound trip.  The beads and other trade items were exchanged for human cargo, ivory, gold and other goods desired in Europe and around the world.  The beads traded were not of a set design, but were produced according to demand. 

These necklaces by Royal Nomad Jewelry are simply stunning!  I love their variety, color & play on textures.
Besides, see how ideal they are for summer layering!  Ooooh, their bracelets are simply scrumpious as well!

The earliest beads are made from natural materials such as bone, shell and stone.  Faience - a glazed quartzite paste - is the earliest artificial material from which beads were made.  It first appeared in Egypt some 5,500 years ago - a millennium before the invention of glass!  Faience beads were widely traded in the Old World.  They show up in archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and Asia as well as in India at various sites along the Indus River.

Ancient peoples adorned themselves with bead jewelry; attached beads in their hair and buried their dead with beads.  Beaded clothing was common, as were baskets, boxes and other household objects.

An example of an antique Black Venetian Trade Bead, available on eBay by Anne Clark Art, $8.99 starting bid.
They are just amazing little pieces of colorful artwork!  How beautiful!

In Europe, Millefiori beads from Venice, Italy were one of the most commonly traded beads.  They were produced by creating flowers or stripes from glass canes that were then cut and moulded onto a core of solid color.  Beads such as the kiffa beads of Mauritania are thought to have resulted from women creating powdered glass beads to mimic the appearance of the millefiori beads.

I love the earth tones of this 32" strand from Plantations, $89.99.  I just think these stunning trade beads
are perfect for layering with modern pieces.  You can do a lot with them & they are just so versatile!

In North America, beads made from precious materials such as dentalium shell were used by Northwest Coast Indians to settle disputes.  Many Native Americans in the Eastern Woodlands made purple and white beads from marine shell.  Called wampum, these beads were strung together in patterns.  They were greatly valued, especially by the Iroquois.  The wampum strings, or "belts," served as symbols of political office; were used to validate agreements; for record-keeping purposes; were given as gifts and worn as personal ornamentation.  

As the availability of glass beads increased, their cost decreased.  Ceramic beads declined in popularity as glass bead manufacturers began to dominate the market.  They gained favor because of their variety of color, price and supply.  At first, glass beads supplemented those made from natural materials, but, in time, glass beads almost completely replaced the Native American-made ones.  

Glass Trade Beads in shades of blue, green & white available on eBay from Rostanga, $15.50 starting bid.
These remind me of bits of sea glass from their colors.  Simply stunning!

The success of this form of currency over the centuries, is attributed to the high intrinsic value certain cultures put upon decorative items.  In certain cultures, the beads were often used as a demonstration of social status, in addition to currency and decoration.  Status could be easily determined by the quality, quantity and style of the jewellery worn - much like in today's society! 

These authentic African Beads from Ghana are amazing examples of artwork, available from Sank of a Beads n Baskets, $30.
Aren't they stunning?!  The variance in color & texture just have such history to them.

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