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French Cross Beads - Once Worth Their Weight in Gold

French Cross Beads are a scarce, yet valuable type of Trade Bead manufactured in Venice during the early 19th Century. Characterized by distinctive 'cross' polychrome markings, they found favor with numerous tribes in Africa – particularly along the Ivory Coast and in parts of Mali. As trade ties strengthened between Europe and America, French Cross Beads also came to be used in South America among tribes such as the Nez Perce.

In Africa, French Cross Beads are more commonly referred to as “Bodoum Beads”. These aren't to be confused with Bodom Beads produced by the Ashanti, which, although are of similar appearance, are not of European origin. There are two main varieties of French Cross Beads: yellow and white – the former being far easier to find than their white counterparts. Bodoum Beads range in size from 5 mm to around 12 mm in length, and despite their name, do not always feature a simple cross design on the surface. Some beads are decorated with tri-color diagonal trails, whereas others feature a simple two-tone stripe down either side.

Perhaps the most interesting fact about these French Cross Beads is their worth in the eyes of African people. While its common knowledge that Trade Beads were readily accepted in exchange for animal pelts, palm oil and spices, less is written about their use as a medium of exchange for more expensive elements, such as gold, silver and amber. Like King Beads, these Venetian-made French Cross Beads were only produced in limited supply, therefore were considered of greater value by tribal chiefs. According to some historical accounts, tribal leaders recognized the value of gold to merchants, and would only supply it in exchange for bags of French Cross Beads of equivalent weight. Today, these rare Venetian gems are considered precious in their own right, and can realize anywhere between $50 and $300 depending on their age and condition.