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A Little Bit About Ancient Glass Beads

The glass seed beads, referred to as trade beads, played an important in the early colonies North America.  Columbus' first trade with the people of the Americas was done with the use of trade beads to gain the confidence and admiration of the native people. October 12, 1492, Columbus recorded in his logbook that the natives of San Salvador Island were given red caps and glass beads. This is the earliest written record of glass beads in the Americas. I believe a promise was made on a previous blog regarding a discussion about ancient glass beads.  Now, since it is January of a new year, I thought I should follow up on my broken promises.  So here it is!

another view of the pain of breaking a handcrafted and ancient beadAmong other nice shots, you will see what happens to an Ancient Majapahit Jatim Eye Bead from the 10th century after it hits a tile floor........it becomes broken.  

Jatim is East Java, in Indonesia where these beads were produced from 700 AD to 1400 AD.  My ancient bead that is now shattered as well as the reproduction bead also shown, show the influence of Roman and Middle Eastern beadmaking.

My particular bead, was made of concentric colors of glass in a cane and applied to a core of a basic glass, which I will explain a little in a following paragraph.

Needless to say, these precious beads and even their replica counterparts should not be dropped on a hard surface.  The glass is old and fragile.  The only good thing I can say about this is that you are able to examine the insides of a very old bead to see what it looks like, and this also gives you an idea of how it was made. 

The beads I am showing here were created with a technique called "trailing and layering" with the use of glass cane similar to millefiore for those who have seen that in Venetian glass.  The canes are created by melting a glass core as the center, then layering different colors of glass one at a time around this core to result in the patterns and "eyes" that you can see on the bead itself.  Then a core is made onto a mandrel, (which usually a steel rod in modern lampwork beadmaking), then adding short bits of caned glass to the core, heating in a flame and shaping with something called a marver (which is still used in modern day beadmaking).  The marver is a paddle that can withstand the heat of molten glass, and on which the molten glass can be shaped into a cylinder or be coaxed into a round shape.

Amazingly, the techniques used then were in popular use in glass bead making until the rise of Venetian glassmaking in the 15th century.

That may be more then you would like to know, but there is more, which I will spare you in this writing.

In another blog I will tell you a few things of interest about trade beads!  Keep an eye open the next time you visit my site.

Buying a beautiful ancient glass bead is an investment, some more then others
Breaking an Ancient glass Bead from JavaScreen shot 2010-11-16 at 11.00.53 AM
The painful result of dropping my ancient bead on a tile floorThe beautiful copying of a very old Jatim handmade glass beadA very old Jatim bead, handcrafted with loving hands in the 16oo's

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