Skip to content


Drawn Trade Beads

Nearly every glass trade bead documented throughout history belongs to one of three classifications: drawn, wound or fused. “Drawn” beads refer to those produced by pulling a long, hollow glob of molten glass into a thin tube, which is then sliced into sections whilst still hot. Before the age of mechanization (the 19th Century), this process would have been carried out by two people: one to control the rod of molten glass, and the second to pull it into a tube up to 300 meters in length. The rods were typically made up of layers or pockets of colored glass – or in the case of Chevron Beads, marvered - to achieve stripes, layers and rosettas.

Drawn rods had to be relatively hot to be broken down into cut sections. Since it was nigh on impossible to control the diameter of the tube as it was pulled, the width of the pulled rod often determined the number and style of beads to be produced. Whilst still hot, the glass tube would be cut into equal sections, then either end of the bead refined by grinding it down. Rounded and spherical beads were achieved by tumbling the glass in a large heated drum comprising a mixture of chemicals, oil, sand and water. The final shape of the beads was dependent upon the length of time they were subjected to heat and tumbling, which caused rougher and weaker parts of the beads to gradually disintegrate.

Drawn beads are among the most common types of Trade Beads found in Africa today, largely due to the manner by which they were manufactured. A single rod or tube could yield as many as 1,000 beads depending upon the skill of glass-makers, making this one of the most popular methods of mass bead production before the age of mechanization.