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Wound Glass Trade Beads

Old Dogon Beads are perhaps the best example of early wound trade beads that pre-date the 19th Century. Although a significant number of Dogon Beads were produced during this period, the technique employed to make them actually dates back to the 14th Century.

Wound beads are created by winding hot strands of molten glass around a metal rod made of copper or steel, (known as a “mandrel”) which was usually coated in a white mixture. This acted as the 'bead release', allowing the beads to be removed from the rod without cracking or breakage. The bead-smith will usually sit facing the furnace or flame, slowly turning the mandrel to wind the glass around it. This method was also employed for the fancy lampwork beads which came to prominence in Venice in the late 19th Century.

Whilst still hot, the glass is manipulated into shape using a flat paddle or metal tongs. Evidence of this can sometimes be seen on old beads, such as Dogons, which often feature visible surface marks running the entire circumference of the bead. Once cool, the bead is removed from the mandrel via the bead release. The bead-smith would use a roughened tool to smooth down the ends of the bead, before finally washing them to remove any excess residue from the bead release.

Although wound beads can still be found in many parts of Africa, they aren't nearly as sought after or collectible as drawn beads. Relatively few produced during the trade era were decorated with patterns or additional colors, making them far less valuable in the eyes of African tribespeople.