Millefiori beads

Millefiori Beads

Antique Millefiori Beads (c. 19th Century)

Antique Millefiori Beads (c. 19th Century)

Millefiori Beads (also known as “Mosaic Beads”) are a type of Venetian Trade Bead mass produced in Murano, Italy during the late 18th and 19th Century. The term “millefiori” is an amalgamation of the Italian words “mille” (thousand) and “fiori” (flowers), and was first used in A. Pellatt’s book “Curiosities of Glassmaking” in 1830.

The term “millefiori” refers to the floral design of the beads, which are created from multi-colored glass rods known as “murrine”. Glass rods used for the production of Millefiori Beads differ to those used for Venetian Chevron Beads in that they are composed of many smaller rods fused together in a design only viewable when the ends of the cane are cut. To make the beads, the murrine rods are heated in a furnace and pulled until thin, then fused with several more to create the structure of the bead. The exact positioning of the rods would determine the symmetry of the ‘flowers’, and only the most skilled of Venetian artisans were allowed to produce Millefiori Beads for trade.

Venetian Millefiori Beads were imported in their thousands to Africa from the mid 19th Century. They were an essential component of trade, being used as currency in exchange for furs, palm oil and spices in Mali and Western Africa. Since many African tribes were unfamiliar with glass-making technology, these beads represented a new and beautiful objet d’arts – primarily for self-adornment. Millefiori Beads have been incorporated into many traditional rites and ceremonies in Africa. In Ghana, young women are presented with strings of these beads during the Krobo Dipo ‘coming of age’ ceremony. Old Millefiori Beads are distinguishable by their pitted ends and slightly curved shape – often leading them to be called “Elbow” Millefiori Beads”.


Millefiori History, Wikipedia

Goulimine Beads, Inside Mystery

Trade Beads

Trade beads

19th Century Chevron Beads. ZSM/

Trade beads (also known as “aggry” and “slave” beads) refer to glass beads manufactured in Venice, the Netherlands and Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) between the 14th and 20th century. They were an essential component during the establishment of trade networks between Europe, Africa and the Americas from the 16th Century; used as a primitive form of currency to buy gold, ivory, slaves, fruit and palm oil. Glass beads were popular in Africa since the methods by which they were produced were largely alien to most tribes, thus making them seem all the more strange and valuable. European Trade Beads were particularly prized by tribes in West Africa, such as the Asante, whom used them to decorate their most respected leaders and elders.

Although there is evidence of Trade Bead production in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Bohemia, it was the Venetians of Italy who are largely credited with their gross production. Venetian Trade Beads from the 14th Century were simplistic in design with just a few colored stripes. These beads are thought to have been the earliest types of Chevron Beads, produced by fusing canes of individual glass together. Chevron Beads (sometimes called Rosetta Beads) are distinguished by a rosetta or star around the perforation hole – the result of layering glass canes symmetrically to produce a uniform striped design.

The popularity of Chevron Beads waned following the introduction of Millefiori Beads to Africa in the late 17th Century. Millefiori (thousand flower) Beads were made in a similar way to Chevrons, with the exception that canes are solid, rather than hollow, and a far greater variety of colors were used. Prosser Beads, known for their milky sheen, and Dogon Beads, once used to create mosaic gardens in Amsterdam, were also popular during the 19th Century. 



The Fascinating History of Mosaic Millefiori (Murrine) Beads. The Felt Fashion Book Blog.

Venetian Beads.

Trade Beads. The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Venetian Trade Beads

Venetian Millefiori Beads

1920s Millefiori Beads. Evelyn S.

“Venetian trade beads” (also referred to as “Murano beads”, or simply “trade beads”) is a collective term used to describe glass beads of varying design originally produced in Venice, Italy, between the 13th and 20th Centuries. They were intended as a basic form of currency, to be exchanged with tribal leaders for spices, furs, gold and slaves, as merchants sought out new avenues for trade in Africa.

Prior to the trade era, numerous glass-makers were known to be producing glass beads in the Rio Alto and Dorsudoro districts of the city on a commission-only basis. As overseas demand grew, the Maggior Consulio (Great Council) realized the great fire risk posed by the glass-making guilds to the city. In 1291, they decreed that all guilds had to be moved to Murano (hence the name), a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon. Here, under the strict control of the Council, production flourished. Glass-makers developed innovative techniques, such as lampworking and Perle a Lume, to create some of the most ornate beads imaginable.

Chevron Bead

Venetian Chevron. Evelyn S.

Distinguished by their striped patina, Chevron (or Rosetta) Beads were among the earliest known decorative beads to be produced in Murano. They are made by fusing rods of colored glass (known as “murrine”) around a single hollow cane, creating a layered rosetta, or star, around the central perforation. The oldest surviving examples date back to the 14th Century, and are red, white and blue in color. Chevron beads are aesthetically similar to 18th Century Venetian King Beads, however the latter are almost always biconical in shape.

Millefiori (meaning “thousand flower”) was the name given to a style of Venetian trade bead produced in the 18th Century. Characterized by beautiful floral mosaics, these decorative beads were highly coveted among African tribes in the 19th Century. They are made in a similar way to the earlier Chevrons, however, the canes are pulled thin whilst still hot to achieve variations in size.


Trade Beads. Boone Trading.

Trade Beads. Wikipedia.

Millefiori. Wikipedia

History of Venetian Glassmaking. BigBeadLittleBead