The origin of Moon Trade Beads is widely disputed, with evidence to suggest they were produced in Venice, the Netherlands, Germany and Bohemia during the 19th Century. It's likely they were of Murano origin, since it was here in 1693 that glass-makers discovered how to create opalescent glass (known as “girasol glass”) with the addition of lead hydrogen arsenate crystals. This early method produced glass that was slightly opaque in appearance, and which shone blue in reflected or artificial light – hence the name Moon Beads. In direct light, girasol glass emits a pinkish brown hue.
The earliest examples of Moon Beads date back to around 1851, and are featured among a number of sample cards once belonging to London-based merchant Moses Lewin Levin, whose sole business was the trading of Venetian and Czech Trade Beads. He donated a considerable proportion of his personal collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1903 – including several Moon Beads!
Opalescent beads had never been seen in Africa prior to the mid 1850s, and it was their ethereal qualities which led to their becoming a firm favorite among the extravagant Yoruba of Nigeria. Traders used the beads as a medium of exchange for exotic supplies such as palm oil and furs – both of which were highly sought after by the 'new money' elite during the English Industrial Revolution. Yoruban priests in particular favored Moon Beads for their spiritual significance – the moon believed to bring great wealth and fortune, as well as heal certain ailments. Beautiful though they are, authentic trade Moon Beads are quite scarce due to their limited time in production. They are also very expensive, with strings usually priced in the region of $300 - $800, depending on the size of the beads.
Want to invest in a rare piece of history for your own private collection? We have limited strings of beautiful Moon Beads available right here.