Glass Trade Beads
Over the next three hundred years, intricate hand-crafted glass beads become more affordable to European traders as glass making technology spread from France to Holland, and then to England in the early 1700s. This map shows the positions of the tribes in North America at the beginning of the Colonial Age. By following the paths of the explorers, a reader can imagine how the beads were traded among the First Nations.
While they were not entirely worthless in
Venetian glass beads were particularly valuable as ‘status symbols’. Here are some examples of the most famous high technology beads that were frequently traded among the various tribes, following ancient Native American trade routes.
LEWIS & CLARK TRADE BEADS
The journals of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition document an extensive exchange of glass trade beads with the Indians of the American Northwest – indeed some of the rugged Mountain Men traded thousands of glass trade beads to amass vast personal fortunes in beaver pelts.
Elizabeth Bennet of Africa Direct travels into the interior of the
The popularity of genuine 'African trade beads' was revived in the late 1960s when they began to be exported from
Although these objects are not very pretty, this EBay Auction offers genuine 600 year old trade beads from
There exists some confusion over trade bead names and classifications and that’s because the whole history of the enterprise is just becoming known today; unfortunately some previous scholars have named their beads too randomly, based on where they were found, who traded them, and what tribes wore them. Some archaeologists reference the methods by which they were transported (i.e., the ‘pony’ bead), or by the various ports from which they were shipped and consequently there are a lots of discrepancies.
CHEVRONS are probably the best known, oldest and most interesting historic trade bead. Often called ‘star’ beads or ‘chevrons’ by Spanish traders, these artifacts are quintessential fur trade relics - but yet they are rarely found in Canada and North US. They were traded here, but very early in the game.
Chevrons were traded with African tribes for slaves and ivory, and Native Americans, primarily in southwest
Glass beads are still sold today.
Today there’s still a demand for glass beads in North America. There are markets for new beads both online and in boutique shops in high culture shopping neighborhoods like Kensington Market, and the ever- fashionable Queen St West in the Canadian city of Toronto.
However when I asked to see his ‘Italian glass beads’ and I used the adjective ‘millefiori’, Claude was quick to fetch out the nicest reproductions I could have imagined.
When I asked the price, Claude said 'For you, three strands for fifty dollars.' And as I could count about thirty beads on each strand, I reckoned that would make them about fifty cents each; that's probably comparable to what European adventurers paid in the 1750s when they were outfitting their trade ships in the markets of London and Amsterdam.