Venetian trade beads

Green Heart Beads

Green Heart Beads (also known as “Hudson’s Bay Trade Beads”, or more simply “Green Hearts”) are a collectible variety of Venetian trade bead produced between 1480 and the 1800′s in Murano, Venice. They are descended from the two-tone compound beads known as “White Hearts” or “Cornaline D’Aleppo”, which were manufactured exclusively as a medium of exchange (currency) for furs in North America and Africa by the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company.

Old Green Heart Trade Beads.

Old Green Heart Trade Beads.

Green Heart Beads are distinguishable from Cornaline D’Aleppo by their brick red color and translucent green core. White Hearts are typically ruby or scarlet red with a translucent white or gray core. The coloration of these popular Venetian glass beads was achieved by adding gold oxide to pink or purple glass. Initially, glass-makers were using gold oxide to produce beads in red only (possibly to imitate the popular carnelian beads traded in Africa), however this proved too expensive long-term. They decided to produce cheaper beads by creating a translucent core from untreated glass, and simply coating it with a thin layer of red colored glass. Green was used for the core until 1830, after which white and yellow glass were used.

Like Cornaline D’Aleppo, Green Heart Beads were produced in limited quantities between 1480 and 1830 due to the sheer expense involved. Because of their scarcity, they’re widely considered to be some of the most valuable and collectible types of trade beads on the market today.

White Heart Beads

White Heart Beads (also referred to as “Cornaline D’aleppo“, or “Hudson’s Bay Beads”) were a type of Venetian Trade Bead produced in Venice, Italy, between 1805 and 1900. While highly collectible, these two-tone beads are considerably plainer compared to other sought after trade beads of the time, such as Millefiori Beads, with an off-white or light yellow core enveloped by a skin of scarlet, orange or dark red glass. Historical findings suggest the brilliant red of some White Heart Beads was achieved by adding gold oxide to the glass.

Red White Heart Beads (Cornaline D'Aleppo)

Red White Heart Beads (Cornaline D’Aleppo)

White Heart Beads were traded extensively throughout Africa and North America in the 19th Century, however, the name “Cornaline D’Aleppo” is believed to derive from the old trading town, Aleppo, in Syria. Being a popular stop-off for caravanning merchants en route to the Middle East from the Mediterranean, the town became a thriving marketplace, and an important center for trade between nomadic African tribespeople and Europeans. “Cornaline”, the old French word for “carnelian”, suggests the beads could have been produced as imitations to fool African tribes.

Venetian White Heart Beads tend to be round or oval in shape, however, there is evidence to suggest both the French and Czechs produced similar beads in the 19th Century in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Although similar in aesthetics to White Hearts, Green Heart Beads usually have a green or grayish core. 

King Beads

King Beads are a type wound Venetian trade bead produced throughout the 19th and 20th Century in Murano, Venice, primarily for trade with Africa and America. They are distinguishable from striped Chevron Beads by their bicone shape, and the fact they do not feature a rosetta around the perforation hole. African legend tells that King Beads got their name because of their popularity among tribal chiefs up until the 1970s.

The earliest known examples of King Beads feature on numerous sample cards donated by Moses Lewin Levin to the British Museum around 1865. Early 20th Century King Beads (dated 1920) also feature within a collection of sample cards donated by Sick and Co; a German company who, until 1964, were one of Europe’s largest exporters of Trade Beads to Africa.

King Beads are one of the earliest types of biconical Trade Bead to have been produced by the marvering method. A marver is a long, thin rod made of copper, around which heated glass is slowly wound. A paddle or steel flipper is used to shape the glass whilst hot, and trails of colored glass then applied to create the distinctive polychromatic stripes. Nineteenth century King Beads were commonly produced in black, green and yellow varieties, with trailed horizontal stripes in two to three colors. 


King Beads, About African Beads

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French Cross Beads


French Cross Beads (also known as “Bodoum Beads” in parts of West Africa) were a popular type of wound Venetian Trade Bead produced in limited quantities throughout the 19th Century. Their intended purpose was use as a medium of exchange or currency in new territories, such as Africa and South America, although they also found their way to parts of Asia in the early 20th Century. 

Yellow and White French Cross Beads

Yellow and White French Cross Beads

So called because of the distinctive polychrome cross designs on their outer skins, French Cross Beads realized considerable value among tribes along the Ivory Coast and central Mali. They were produced in both yellow and white – the latter being far more scarce than the colored varieties. While most beads featured a single cross design in one or two colors on either side of the bead, others were decorated with trailed and cross-hatched designs. French Cross Beads were produced in a variety of sizes ranging from a tiny 5mm to just over 12mm.

The production of Bodoum Beads involved an ancient bead-making technique known as winding or marvering. Glass is first heated in a furnace to make it ductile, then whilst still hot, is slowly wound around a copper mandrel coated in clay or borum nitride. This would form the bead release, which made it easier to ‘release’ the beads later on. While the glass was still hot, it would be manipulated with a flat-sided paddle to achieve the spherical shape. Finally, thinner strips of hot glass would be applied to create the cross design.

Much like old Venetian King Beads, French Crosses were only produced in limited number, and were therefore considered particularly valuable by tribes in Africa owing to their scarcity. They were commonly exchanged for valuable elements, such as gold and silver, as well as heavy animal pelts and palm oil. Today, French Cross Beads are still considered quite valuable, and can fetch between $50 and $300 at online auction. 


Wound Glass Beads – Wikipedia

French Cross Beads - About African Beads

Chevron Beads

Chevron Beads (also known as “rosetta” beads, or simply “Chevrons”) are a type of Venetian Trade Bead produced in Murano and Venice, Italy, from the 14th to 19th Century. Venetian Chevrons are categorized as ‘drawn’ beads; created by fusing multiple glass canes which are shaped using specialist star molds. This creates a distinctive star shape around the perforation hole (usually comprising 4-7 colored layers), which is often referred to as a “rosetta”. Chevron Beads produced during the 15th Century typically had 7 layered colors and 6 facets.

Chevron Bead ZSM/

Chevron Bead ZSM/

Chevron Beads comprise numerous layers of colored glass. The core of the bead, which will later form the perforation, is created from a single globule of molten glass, known as the “gather”. While still hot, the gather is immersed into a star shape mold to add the first layer of color. This process is repeated to achieve each colored layer. After several colors have been layered consecutively, the glass is drawn out, or pulled with a cane to elongate the rod, which is then cut whilst hot to form the beads. The end of the beads are then chamfered or ground to reveal the star pattern in the cross section. Early Chevron Beads were almost always red, white and blue in color.

Venetian Chevrons are among the earliest known types of beads to be produced in Venice for trade in West Africa. They were primarily intended for use as currency in unexplored territories, such as the Republic of the Congo, where merchants would exchange them for favors, animal pelts, slaves and spices. A number of small, 7 layer Chevron Beads dating back to the 15th Century have been found in Peru, and were believed to have been introduced by Christopher Colombus. Today, classic 7-layer Chevron Beads are the most highly collectible.


Gallery of Trade Beads, Ezakwantu

Chevron Beads, Wikipedia

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