Monday, August 3, 2009


People have had a desire to adorn themselves since standing upright. These adornments have taken on many form through the centuries, one that seems to have existed since the beginning is the use of beads. Loosely defined a bead is any object with a hole either natural or drilled by man used for decoration. These decorations have communicated status, memberships, achievements, uniqueness and more. The history is fascinating spanning some 50,000 years. Of course the materials used are as varied as the materials available in the world. Shell, stone, wood, bone and seeds have been used since the beginning of recorded history. Over the centuries glass came into use crudely at first with more sophisticated techniques developing over time.

The intricacies of the technical developments in bead making intertwined with the ever larger historic trading arenas, the copies and knock offs created to compete and trade with other markets, political, social and religious influences all have a hand in shaping the history of beads.

Earliest beads were most likely found, objects with a natural hole that were strung and worn. The development of putting a hole in an object wouldn’t be far behind. Seeds, shell, wood, bone and stone were all used early on in bead making. Early stone beads were crudely shaped and roughly polished. In modern times more sophisticated techniques developed bringing us to today’s precise computer controlled laser faceted stones.

Beads are made virtually everywhere these days and from nearly every material imaginable from natural to synthetic. An ever-increasing variety of stones are discovered as mining operations continue throughout the world and new techniques with glass increase the variety and scope of beads available.

Some beads from collection are shown below:

Above and below - African River Amber – Named because it is collected in riverbeds. Turned up after rains. The amber is dry, brittle and flakey.

Above and below - Millefiore African Trade Beads – These colorful beads are made by fusing rods of colored glass together then slicing and manipulating the hot glass into various patterns. These beads were produced in Venice from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. The Venetian glass business was formidable producing a couple of million pounds of beads a year in the late 1700’s to 6 million pounds being produced annually by the late 1800’s.

Above - African Cast Bronze Rings – These rings are sand cast in Africa from a bronze mixture. These were stitched to garments or strung together and worn.

Below - Plastic Discs – These disc beads are made from discarded plastics and used as adornment in some regions of Africa.

Glass Coral India – The beads on this necklace are glass made to look like coral. This piece is from northern India.

Above - Decorated and Carved Conch Shell Beads - Found in the Himalayan Mountains these beads were decorated and probably used as counter and guru beads on a mala.

Below - Conch Shell Mala Beads – Found in the Himalayan Mountains these beads are made from conch shell and were used in malas. They are worn white and smooth from use.

Above - Carved Yak Bone Skull Mala – Yak bone is carved into skull beads to make this Tantric mala or rosary of skulls. The beads on this mala show the years of handling while reciting mantras.

Below - Copper Beads – Hand made in Africa from sheets of copper.

Above - Czech Wedding Beads – These beads were made in the 1920’s and traded in Africa. They are still worn ceremonially in Mali. These beads are molded as you can see the seams along the sides. Some beads have a textural design, usually an angular art deco geometric pattern.

Below - Quartz donuts – These quartz donuts are crudely fashioned with primitive hand tools from Africa.

Above - Ostrich Shell Beads - Hand made in Africa from the shells of ostrich eggs

Below - Bodi Seed Tibetan Mala – Seeds from the Bodi tree, a tree considered sacred to Hindus and Buddhists are drilled and used for beads in a mala or rosary. This mala is from pre-Chinese invasion of Tibet.

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