Collecting Vintage and Antique African Beads

Antique beads are all beads that are older than 100 years. It is very difficulty to come across such beads due to their short supply and high demand. They are rarely used for decorative purposes today because they are too expensive and fragile.

The History of Antique african beads

Antique african beads were originally used in Africa, mostly West Africa, by European traders and colonialists and by Arab traders. However, all beads that found their way into Africa through trade or through other means before then are also antique african beads. There are several types of beads that qualify as antique african beads. Padre and Chevron beads were used by traders, but Millefiori beads were the most widely used beads.

Most antique african beads went by the name slave beads and trade beads. The name slave beads come from the fact that that the Europeans used them in exchange for slaves with the Africans. The name trade beads comes from the fact that they were used by Europeans and Arab Merchants in African in exchange for goods such as ivory, gold, palm oil, rhinoceros horns, and other goods, in exchange for services such as carrying goods around and acting as guides, and in exchange for slaves.

Trade beads were used by Europeans who had no intention of trading with Africans for money. The Europeans also used the beads to endear themselves to the Africans in preparation for colonization. The trade beads that Arab traders used were mostly made in India.

Millefiori beads were made in the Italian city of Venice. European commissioned them and gave specifications on the style and the colors they wanted. This took place between the mid 19th century and early 20th century.

The use of trade beads in Africa was successful because Africans already a history of using beads that dated back thousands of years. Africans placed high intrinsic value on beautiful items and they were awed by beads made from glass. They used the beads to show status in the society, to trade amongst each other, and to store wealth.

Identifying Antique african beads

When buying antique african beads, it is important that you identify whether you are buying the real thing because there are many imitations in the market.

Most antique african beads have a large hole and any beads that have small and precise holes are not antique. With advances in technology, bead makers today are able to make beads that have smaller and more precise holes.

You should consider the appearance. Antique african beads have been exposed to the elements for over 100 years and they have changed hands severally and so you expect them to be worn and aged. You should expect the hole to have some tear and wear due to erosion as a result of stringing. Antique beads were handmade and this means no two beads were the same, meaning all beads that look the same are probably mass-produced.

If you are having a problem identifying whether the beads are genuine, have a professional jeweler examine it for you. You should be particularly careful when buying antique african beads online because you cannot be sure that what is shown on the picture is what you will get.

Reasons for the Popularity of Antique african beads

People buy antique african beads for sentimental values, especially descendants of slaves and others who understand and appreciate their history.

The beads are used as collectors’ items because of their high demand and low supply. They are appreciating at about 10% every year. These beads also make great gifts.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the expansion of air travel. Hippies travelled to different exotic places and brought back whatever they found, including these beads. The popularity of the beads slowly grew and the beads were exported from Africa to the West.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }