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Chevron Trade Beads Characteristics: How To Ascertain Their Age, By The Number of Layers

If you have had time to read up on previous posts to our blog here at The Bead Chest, you can't fail to have noticed that we have covered Venetian trade beads pretty extensively. From Millefiori and Prosser, through to Padre and Chevrons - each style has played a significant part in the history of continental discovery, and the establishment of international economy between Europe and Africa. What you might not be aware of, is that some variants of Venetian trade beads are more sought after, than their elaborate Millefiori counterparts.

Chevron Trade Bead Characteristics

Have you taken a look at our variety of Chevron Beads here at The Bead Chest? With their glossy striped aesthetics, and ellipsoid shapes, they are beautifully versatile for all kinds of stringing purposes. They are also highly collectible, since they are sourced directly from Africa, and bear a trade history in excess of a Century. Interestingly, there is also a manner by which we can date them.

History of Antique Chevron Beads

The cane technique was a glass fusing process said to originate from 16th Century Venice (although some evidence suggests it could have been earlier.) As a relatively new practice, few glass-smiths had the speed, patience or steady hand required to fuse glass canes individually-which is why so few Chevron Beads survive from the 16th-18th Centuries. Beads from this period can be identified by:

  • The existence of 3-6 'layers' and up to 3 different colors within the design.
  • A rough, hewn appearance which may include some deformity. The finishing process for Chevrons took some refining over several Centuries.
  • Largely ellipsoid in shape (no flattened ends yet), and rarely more than an inch in length.
  • Interestingly, some surviving 7-layer beads have been recovered in and around the Peruvian regions of South America. Costly to make, they measured less than 1/2 an inch in length

From the 18th-19th Centuries, increased demand for Chevron beads for African trade influenced a great deal of experimentation. The economy had assisted in pushing down the costliness of creating 'canes', therefore it was less expensive to start having some creative fun with the technique. As a result:

  • The number of layers increased - anywhere from 6-12 being possible.
  • Four or five different colors within the alternating bead layers.
  • Higher number of "star" points, due to the increased number of canes used.
  • Smaller visible core - still usually white.
  • Longer length - archaeological recoveries in South Africa and around Murano, Italy have uncovered beads of up to 3 inches in length. These are very rare.

Additional Historical Characteristics of Chevron Trade Beads

Other characteristics that enable us to date Chevron Beads include the presence of pitting, dirt or wear and tear. In addition, Chevron Beads created by the Venice-based Moretti Company (manufacturers for over 200 years) post-1900 are generally larger in girth; feature the popular 6-7 layered star and bear a lighter 'skin' to the exterior coating. Post-1950, Chevrons were created using the traditional technique, coupled with exterior manipulation to induce a glossier finish. This usually occurred with the aid of a slow-firing process at a lower temperature.

Can You Guess the Date?

Think you might be able to identify an 18th Century Chevron just by looking at it? Here at The Bead Chest, we have sourced a quantity of such beads directly from Africa. They range in age from 18th to early 20th Century. See if you can guess, without reading the descriptions!