If you are a super fan of antique ornaments like me, I’m sure you were interested in African trade beads. These beads are difficult to find nowadays and are protagonists of a part of the history often unknown. Well, we want the African trade beads back, but that part of the history can stay exactly where it is.
Since the 15th century, Europe has been trading with African countries. European explorers began to cross the African continent and as payment, they used glass beads produced in Europe, mainly in Venice, Bohemia and Holland.
African people were not familiar with traditional currencies and these colorful and amazing beads became very valuable for trading and show the social status. Since the manufacture of glass was rare in Africa, these objects were highly valued by its population.
Usually, these trade beads served Europeans to acquire gold, ivory, coconut and palm oil, wood and even they were used for the slave trade.
This trade had begun centuries before with the Arabs, beads were part of the commercial network across Africa. Today in Nigeria, Mauritania, and Ghana these beads are still made imitating the antique European designs.
There are a lot of type of trade beads and different manufacturing techniques. One of the most popular are glass Venetian beads called Millefiori very popular because of their colors, they were produced by creating flowers or stripes from glass canes, that were then cut and molded onto a core of solid color.
The beauty of these trade beads increases with use and time, today many replicas are available worldwide, but the originals are in the hands of collectors.
They boomed during the 60s and 70s as they were considered something very exotic and ethnic, something very fashionable at that time.