There's no denying the beauty and versatility of Glass Snake Beads for African jewelry projects. With their unique interlocking capability, and stunning uniformity when strung upon a single strand, they could easily be worn as a stylish adornment in their own right.
In Africa, real snake vertebrae have used for centuries in divination rites - particularly among the Soninke people of Ghana, whom credit a seven-headed black snake, known as “Bida”, for the continued prosperity of their people. It is the use of these beads in African divination ceremonies which inspired European glass-houses to develop glass imitations for trade during the early 1900s.
The earliest known producers of imitation Glass Snake Beads were the infamous Bapterosses of France, Redlhammer Brothers of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and the Risler Co, Germany. All three employed differing techniques to create beads with interlocking capability. Jean-Felix Bapterosses, the man accredited with developing the Prosser molding technique, employed the same method of molding cold paste under pressure to achieve the 2-6 point shape. His method, however, only allowed for creation of beads in opaque and milky colors.
In Bohemia, glass-workers employed a pressing technique. Hot canes of glass would be fed into a machine, which could automatically press them into molds, and simultaneously pierce a hole through the center. They would then undergo a two-step tumbling process to refine rough edges and smooth the outer 'skin' of the beads.
These fascinating manufacturing techniques allowed for the creation of two different types of Glass Snake Beads: those which interlock together on both sides, and those which only interlock on one. The former are considered to be more akin to real snake vertebrae due to their uniformity when strung.