Slave Beads

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.