Watermelon beads are a type of glass beads that was commonly used for trading purposes in West Africa, especially during the centuries preceding the ban on slavery. These beautiful African trade beads were a form of currency and were molded in layers ranging from 2 to 6. Watermelon beads were thin and handmade, thus giving each bead a unique characteristic. The top layer of the beads was green and shaped like a watermelon, thus denoting the watermelon in their name. However, watermelon beads are today also available in striped colors. These beads were of great value in African traditional culture as they were an indicator of rank, age, wealth and social status and today, they are becoming increasingly valuable as well.
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.
Snake beads were popularly worn by members of traditional African society as a form of protection from evil charms and ill fate. The modern woman, although not in the least bit superstitious, may also adorn herself in attractive snake beads by simply slipping a strand over her head. Alternatively, one may get a little creative and use a strand to accent a unique piece to wear or to give away as a gift. An exquisite modern design of African snake beads features long 22 – 28 inch strands of handmade glass beads which are interlocked in a design resembling snake vertebra and strung on raffia.
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.
Button beads are small glass beads which resemble modern buttons, although they do not have a group of central holes. These beads date back to the Etruscan period and the time of the Roman Empire, but later found their way to Syria and Egypt. Button beads are generally very beautiful and boast artistic workmanship. Today as in the past, button beads are used to make exquisite necklaces using these beads entirely, some of which may be cemented together two and two in order to form a single bead. Button beads take on various shapes including circular, flat, oval, plane, convex or convex-concave shapes.
Kiffa beads are rare powder glass beads which acquired their name from Kiffa, a city in Mauritania where they were first documented by French ethnologist R. Mauny in 1949. Kiffa beads represent one of the highest levels of bead making skill, artistry and ingenuity due to the fact that they were created using the simplest tools and materials available, and in open fires. These materials included pulverized European glass beads or their fragments, bottle glass, tin cans, pottery shards, steel needles and some gum Arabic. Decorations for the beads were made from the glass slurry – the crushed glass mixed with a binder and then applied using a pointed tool such as a steel needle. The beads were then placed in small containers such as sardine cans and thereafter heated to fuse them in an open fire, without the need for molds.
Originally made using salts from the Dead Sea, Hebron beads date back to earlier than the mid-19th century. Hebron beads – also referred to as “Kano beads”, are commonly found in a dull yellow color, although they also appear in various shades of green and blue, although rare. These beads are a favorite amongst antique bead collectors who cherish them for their rich history which saw them travel from Egypt, along the Nile, into the Sudan and even as far as Ghana to adorn the bodies of West African royalty. Their craftsmanship involves their being wound straight in furnace to produce a shining glass bead. The larger of the Hebron beads are referred to as Mongur, while the smaller ones go by the name Harish.
French Cross Beads are African trade beads with a history dating back to the late 19th century in Africa. French cross beads were made in Venice and commonly used for trading purposes in Africa during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. However, in the late 1960’s French cross beads witnessed a revival when bead traders began to export them from Africa into the United States and Europe.
Today, French cross beads can be found in many expensive private collections around the world. Like other African trade beads, the designs of French cross beads are constantly subjected to ever-changing and dynamic fashion trends, with many of the styles that were available just a couple of years ago being completely out of stock in no time.
The style of White Heart beads was invented around the year 1480, whereby red glass was colored using actual gold. Naturally, because of its value, the gold had to be used sparingly by the bead makers. As such, they instead opted to use cheap color filler for the core of the bead with the red only forming the outer layer. During the years 1480 – 1830, bead makers began using green color to craft these beads. However, after 1830 both yellow and white were commonly used, along with a translucent red coat. After 1860, bead makers stopped using yellow altogether in making White Heart beads and exclusively opted for white color.
Tabular brass beads are more flat than round and were common adornments amongst members of African traditional society. In countries such as Ghana, tabular brass beads were hand made by bead makers from the Ashanti tribe to create one-of-a-kind pieces such as beautiful triangle matched beads crafted from brass through the lost wax technique. What makes each tabular brass bead unique is the fact that a mold is specifically prepared for each bead, which is thereafter destroyed in order to extract the bead. Also hand strung, tabular brass beads are ideal for designing elaborate pieces of jewelry or simply wearing them as they come in the form of necklaces or bracelets.