Strand of glass beads "Venetian"


Venice/Czechoslovakia, Ghana, West Africa, early 19th century to mid. 20th century, private collection from Netherlands.

Trade beads are beads that were used as a medium of barter within and amongst communities. They are considered to be one of the earliest forms of trade between members of the human race. It has also been surmised that bead trading was one of the reasons why humans developed language. History of African Trade beads dates to the 15th century when Portuguese trading ships arrived on the coast of the West-Africa. The glass beads and other trade items were exchange for gold, ivory, palm oil and for slaves. At that time glass beads were major part of the currency exchanged for people and products. That’s why these glass beads are also called for ”slave beads”. The production of trade (slave) beads became so popular that literally tons of these beads were used to this purpose. Beads were used even as ballast in trade/slaveships for the outbound trip.

The beads proved to be a cheap and efficient trading currency, especially since there were already well-known glass bead making factories in Venice, Bohemia and the Netherlands, that just increased their production as a result of the growing African demand. The success of this form currency can largely be attributed to the high intrinsic value African people put upon decorative items. Glassmaking was not common in Africa. Africans used beads for currency, wealth storage and for the symbol of the social status. Although there was hundreds of glass bead designs, some of them were particularly popular, such as millefiori, rosetta and chevron. Trade beads were used as a currency until the end of the 19th century. After that they took on new roles within West African society primarily with respect to their aesthetic value. The quantitity, quality and the style of beads one possesses or wears shows one’s importance and wealth in Ghanaian and West African society. An inventory of antique beads is given only to someone who will appreciate this remarkable historical legacy and understands its value.

Mesmerizing strand of various antique and vintage glass trade beads & older powder glass beads. Lovely brick red and peach hues. Plant fibre string are modern. Beads have beautiful old patina with some chips & digs. Traces of handling and wearing over many years. Strand circumference c. 62,0cm. Approx. 74 unique glass beads.

References, citations and sources:

The BeadSite. (

African Odyssey, A Brief History of Glass Beads in Africa.(