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Prosser Beads: The Milk Myth.

They don't make things like they used to! As much can be said for glass beads, especially Prosser glass beads.

Today, many traditional glass-making methods are practically defunct (save for the revival of glass-making in Ghana and West Africa) with the modern markets favoring cheaply replicated acrylic and plastic beads. Sadly, this has also meant a decline in the conventional manufacture of African trade bead variants - namely "Prosser Beads" (although we stock an abundance of authentic porcelain and glass variants here at The Bead Chest.) The traditional 'paste and mold' technique is almost extinct, yet artisan collectives within Mexico are allegedly reviving the art.

With their smooth, disc-like characteristics; Prosser Beads are widely favored for their uniform aesthetic. When strung together, Prosser Beads convey a weighty product with a surprisingly lustrous sheen to the 'glass'. True, any glass bead may be manipulated to high shine, however Kakamba Prosser Beads realized their luster via a fairly unique process reserved for the decoration of porcelain and china. The one element implemented into the 'recipe' for Prosser Beads, is also that which allowed for their production in a wide range of translucent hues (as opposed to the earlier opaque, single color beads.)


Cow's milk to be exact!

The London-based Prosser Brothers may be attributed with inventing the "cold paste pressing" technique, however it was a Frenchman, known as Jean-Félix Bapterosses who is widely regarded the stalwart of Prosser Bead production. During the 1840's, Bapterosses was already manufacturing porcelain buttons in their thousands, however the new "Prosser" technique heralded a revolution. Already an avid collector of African trade beads, Bapterosses realized the "Prosser" method could be utilized for a new variant of bead - not dissimilar to buttons.

Bapterosses main issue with the "cold paste" technique, was it's malleability. Early pastes comprised 3 quarts porcelain, to 1 part glass and were quite inflexible when it came to shaping. Milk was already being used within his porcelain bead production techniques, and after some experimentation realized a solution for Prosser Beads. It also enabled the creation of a wider spectrum of colors, as well as translucent varieties.

Many unfamiliar with the textiles history of Bapterosses, may question his motivation for extending to bead production. During the 19th Century, the African trade movement was still peaking - large areas of the continent still surprisingly unexplored. As such, trade beads still dominated the 'currency and exchange' system, which had been started by explorers in the 1400's.

At the height of production between 1860-1864, Jean-Félix Bapterosses' factory was producing between 500-600 tonnes of Prosser Beads annually. This peak led to the movement of his factory from downtown Paris, to a situation within the town of Briare. Adjacent to the new factory (which employed over 1800 personnel), a farm was built in order to maintain the continuous supply of milk for bead production. Estimates put the daily requirement at around 500 liters! Bapterosses' factory also initiated the town's moniker - ""Cité des perles " (City of Pearls.) Such was the success of the factory, it put the British porcelain company "Minton & Chamberlain" out of business. They had originally patented the "Prosser" technique, which Bapterosses rented for his own use!

Now you're clued up on the fascinating history of Prosser and Bapterosses; why not browse our stunning array of Prosser Beads right here at The Bead Chest? We stock both the translucent and opaque varieties - many of which were African trade beads in a former life!