When you look at African Trade Beads in all their vibrant, colourful glory, do you ever wonder about their history? So accustomed are we to the cheaper, replica trade beads re-produced in many countries, that we don't bother questioning authenticity – and yet so many of us seek out “vintage” beads for modern fashion accessories or collecting.

Recent fashion revivals have included tribal and ethnic couture – designs inspired by symbolic jewelry, worn by great African and Asian tribes to signify social rank, marital status or traditional values. Cheap reproductions can significantly compromise the vintage aesthetics of a quality piece, which is why at The Bead Chest, we stock carefully selected products such as the Old Antique Mixed Trade Beads, sourced within Africa.

Signs of The Times

If you are new to jewelry-making or bead collecting, you may be a little “in the dark” when it comes to gauging the quality and authenticity of antique African Trade Beads. The most obvious signs of age are ingrained dirt or an excessively dusty appearance. Most African Trade Beads are also sold by the string like the Kakamba Prosser Beads we have here at The Bead Chest.

Antique beads are often sold “as sourced”, meaning they may well once have been the adornment of a tribes-person, or were strung as a “set currency” for which to do trade. Another characteristic features within the design of individual beads. Those with uneven, or non-symmetrical patterns are more likely to be authentic. Modern stamping techniques tend to produce an even finish, with a pattern that “fits” the bead. Antique beads also tend to be hand-painted.

Weight of the African Beads

Old African Trade Beads tend to be far heavier than modern replicas simply due to the differences in production prior to the 19th Century. Wound beads, such as the Green Old Annular Wound Dogon Beads within our Dogon Beads category, are a prime example of this. Wound beads were produced by the heating of glass, which was then wrapped around a wire or rod and guided into shape with the use of stones or wood.

Modern replicas tend to be made using moulds or glass-blowing, with the assistance of machinery. Old wound beads tend to be heavier, as the winding process utilized far greater quantities of molten glass.

Source of the African Trade Beads

Perhaps the most important consideration when browsing for authentic Trade Beads is the source. Some retailers may purport to sell authentic beads, however, these qualities cannot always be noticed through photos alone.

Here at The Bead Chest, you will find extensive information under the description of each product, detailing the origins and traditional production processes involved in creating trade beads.

We also supply high resolution, close-up images of detailed beads, such as our Dogon Mali Clay Spindle Beads. Our trade beads are also categorized by genre, making it far simpler to find the right kind of trade beads for your purpose. Why not chat live with one of our dedicated African bead specialists (available almost 24 hours per day), who can also answer any additional questions you may have?