Trade Beads from Africa

We carry a large selection of high quality, authentic trade beads. Hundreds of strands in stock, including glass trade beads, African trade beads, antique trade beads, Chevron trade beads, and more.

Trade Beads are beads that have been used as a form of currency for the exchange of goods and services especially in West Africa. Some of the more common items that these beads were bartered for include ivory, gold, slaves, and other goods that were in demand by Europeans and colonial overlords. Trade beads were made throughout Europe, however their production was concentrated in Venice and Bohemia where the secrets of glass bead production were a carefully guarded secret. The high demand for European beads in Africa can be attributed to the cultural value put by African peoples on decorative items. Jewelry items could add to the status of the owner and could be passed on to future generations as a symbol of wealth.

Interestingly, trade beads were also used for trade in the New World. The important role that they played is illustrated by the legend that the Dutch purchased the island of Manhattan from local Native American tribes for several strands of beads. It is believed that Christopher Columbus used glass Trade Beads for barter during his early voyages. Later, Spanish explorers and European fur traders and American explorers such as Lewis and Clark used Trade Beads to facilitate interactions with local peoples and to procure goods. Today, African beads used in the trade are considered highly collectible items.

A wide variety of Trade Beads were produced between the 16th and 20th centuries. One of the most celebrated bead designs is the Millefiori Bead from Venice that was named after the characteristic flower pattern on its surface. The methods used to make these and other beads are a testament to the innovation of Venetian artisans. African artisans subsequently copied glass cane beads such as the Millefiori using powdered glass techniques to produce indigenous African Kiffa Beads with similar patterns. Additional well-known varieties of trade beads include Chevrons, Dogon Beads, Vaseline Beads, Russian Blue Beads, Skunk Beads and many others.

Today, Trade Beads are world-renown for their rich legacy and aesthetic beauty. While African Trade Beads have long been highly regarded in African culture, their appreciation in Western countries continues to grow both among bead collectors and artists as well as bead enthusiasts alike.

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