Tomato beads are a type of seed bead that was commonly used during the African slave trade in past centuries. Originating from Venice where they were manufactured, tomato beads are large and slightly translucent. They have an irregular rounded shape and may appear in brilliant shades of red and yellow. Largely traded in Ethiopia, tomato beads get their name from their tomato-like shape and served as one of the earliest forms of trade currency in this region. A high intrinsic value was placed on tomato beads as the people of this region, just as everywhere else in Africa, truly valued decorative items such as beads.
Aja beads were historically made in Venice in the early 20th century, from drawn glass tubes which were cooled and cut into small slices. Once cut, the slices of drawn cane were thereafter exposed to heat until the glass softened or slumped. This caused the beads to flatten and their hard cut edges to soften and become rounded. Experts speculate that the process of slumping was in actual fact carried out in Africa as there is no evidence of the slumped slices ever being sold in Venice. Aja beads range in size, color and canes with the most spectacular being crafted from Rosetta or chevron cane. These beautiful and somewhat unusual beads are today used to craft exquisite jewelry pieces such as those featuring 4-layer “yellow jacket” slices.
For the last three centuries, the bohemian bead industry has thrived under the guidance of expert stone cutters who have continued to work with bright red garnets in and around the bohemian village of Turnov in today’s Czech Republic. This tradition of fine bead making is today evident from the great collections of both old and new glass bohemian beads available on the market today. Historically, the unique styles of the translucent red glass made these beads some of the most popular African trade beads which were used by European seafaring merchants to trade for slaves, ivory and other goods with African rulers in the centuries past.
Bembe Cote beads are a type of African trade beads popular amongst the Bembe people of Congo. These decorative glass beads were popularly used for trading purposes in Africa during the pre-20th century period, mainly as currency for the exchange of goods, services and slaves. The success of Bembe Cote beads as a form of currency is largely attributed to the high intrinsic value that the people of Africa placed on decorative items. Bembe Cote beads are today available in attractive colors such as deep maroon with each individual bead measuring approximately ½ inches in diameter.
Kankanmba beads are a type of African trade beads which were popularly used and widely distributed all over the continent in the 19th century. Also referred to as “Prosser beads”, Kankanmba beads were crafted from glass and ceramic using the technology from a button-making machine invented by the two Prosser brothers of Bohemia in the 1830s. The use of this technology was prevalent well into the 1860s, with these beads being produced with a thin seam. Kankanmba beads were also used for trading purposes by the American Indians who incorporated them into their crafts. While the production of Kankanmba beads through the Prosser technique is almost defunct, bed makers in morocco have over the years been trying to revive this process with a few attractive jewelry items.
Dating back to as early as 1915, Vaseline beads are attractive greenish yellow glass beads whose pretty color is attributed to the presence of uranium salts. These beads tend to fluoresce under ultraviolet light and turn a violent green. Later versions of Vaseline beads were made in various attractive colors including bright green, red, amethyst, as well as an opaque blue green which is the color of fine amazonite. These beads are large, faceted and shaped into a rondelle shape or flat disk, with popular jewelry designs featuring both forms on a single strand. Today, Vaseline beads still retain their special significance as highly prized African trade beads.
In the 19th – 20th century, Fancy Glass beads – also known as lamp-wound beads, featured as a vital part of the Venetian bead production. These comprised of beautiful beads which were crafted by hand from interesting pieces of glass with spectacular floral designs. Fancy Glass beads are today available in the form of pressed glass beads which take on various colors, shapes and sizes. Some popular Fancy Glass bead shapes for modern jewelry designs include the round, oval and faceted oval beads. Today, Fancy Glass beads can be used to make jewelry items such as bracelets, anklets, chokers and necklaces for both modern women and men with an eye for fashion.
Padre beads are glass beads whose origin is traced back to ancient China. In the late 18th century, these beads spread rapidly in use in Southwest and Northwest America, following the trading patterns of Russian and Spanish traders. Padre beads were available in 3 sizes: jumbo Dogons measuring 5/8’s to ¾ inches in diameter; mid-sized Crow beads measuring 3/8’s inches in diameter and the small Pony beads measuring 3/16’s inches in diameter. Padre beads were available in a variety of colors, with blue and white being most valuable historically and the only ones acceptable for trade amongst the Indians.
Olumbo beads are old Czech beads made from glass which were popularly worn by the Nigerian people at the height of African trade in the past centuries. Olumbo beads were part of the selection of African trade beads which were used for purposes of trade by African kings and chiefs while trading in slaves, ivory and other goods with western sea faring merchants as far back as the late eighteenth century. Today, Olumbo beads can be strung on raffia – bead to bead, to create beautiful bracelets and necklaces for the discerning beaded jewelry lover. The beads are usually available in attractive colors such as pink and various other shades of red, but can be found in green.
Because of their rarity, yellow jacket beads are some of the most highly sought after beads by bead collectors the world over. Yellow jacket beads are distinctly characterized by the precision and detail that goes into making these exquisite layered glass trade beads by hand. Yellow jacket beads receive their name from their coat which features black beads with yellow stripes – which pretty much resembles the appearance of the yellow jacket bees. Yellow jacket beads are another type of African trade beads which were used as currency for trade during the pre-19th century period, mainly in West African countries such as Ghana.