Venetian natives were among the first in the world to produce trade beads on a commercial scale. From the 12th Century, Venetian Trade Beads became a familiar form of currency taken to distant shores in exchange for coveted goods, which ranged from furs and clothing, to spices, myrrh and palm oil. For this reason alone the early striped Chevron Beads were particularly valuable. As practices evolved, Venetian Trade Beads became far more intricate in design and Millefiori Beads (thousand flower or Rosetta beads) became equally as coveted. Some colors were mass produced – such as blue and white, whereas rarer greens and yellows were harder to come by, as the dyes used were not so readily available to manufacturers operating on a budget.
As with many forms of art now Centuries-old, African Trade Beads and Venetian Trade Beads have become collector's items. Shades considered rare between the 12th -15th Centuries are now even harder to come by – many having been lost through shipping, misplacement and the movement of African tribes through the ages.
“Twisted” trade beads are among some of the most recent finds realizing considerable value at auction around the world. These beads are usually a dark bottle green or cobalt blue in color, and are considered extremely rare. Twisted trade beads are among the few that were produced and cut within Venice (many others being sent to Bohemia for cutting and polishing). One recent find sold for $620 this year on a specialist U.K auction site.
Notable Venetian Trade Beads realizing considerable sums of money in both the U.K and U.S are the russet-red Hudson Trade Beads produced in Murano during the 1800's. The majority of Hudson Trade Beads were destined for the shores of North America and Asia, where explorers traded with Indians for artifacts, oils, fuel and fur (a luxury in Europe). Hudson Beads are identifiable by the yellowish tinge to the center of the bead (colored glass), and the rich red exterior which was actually the derivative of melted gold into molten glass. These beads are now extremely rare as access to gold was limited in Venice, producers opting to replicate the shade with alternate dyes and ores instead. Hudson Trade Beads can typically fetch between $40-$500 dollars depending upon age, condition, heritage, and the amount of gold used in production. This is usually ascertained by the brightness of the rouge coloring. Today, they are also known as White Heart beads
Millefiori Beads are now among the most popular collector's items when it comes to trade beads, simply because they were produced over a period of 700 years. To this end, there are still millions in circulation, or lying hidden away waiting to be found. Millefiori Beads were created using a far more delicate process than other types. The star-burst or flower-designs are actually created by the fusing of different canes of colored glass, in a gradual process. Millefiori Beads with an abundance of such stars are usually more valuable, especially if they can be dated to the 15th / 16th Century when the practice was quite rare.
Here at The Bead Chest, we are lucky enough to have sourced Venetian Trade Beads that pre-date the 1900's, notably the coveted Old Antique Venetian Millefiori African Trade Beads – multi-colored Millefiori and Chevron Beads still strung and intact as found. These are often very quickly snapped up, purely because authentic trade beads are so hard to come by. Take a look at our Venetian Millefiori beads, "Eye" trade beads, or some of the rarer colored Chevrons. When buying Venetian Trade Beads, you have to be quick because once they're gone, you may never see the same size, shape or intricate designs again!