History and Caring for Antique Silver Beads

Beads get the name ‘antique’ if they are over 100 years old. Note that beads that are over 20 years old are called vintage beads. Antique silver beads, as the name suggests, are beads over 100 years old that are made of silver.

A Brief History of Antique Silver Beads

Most antique beads are made from glass. These were used to trade with Native American Indians and Africans. However, antique silver beads are much older and they have withstood the test of time because silver is not corrosive.

Silver was used as early as 3000 BC according to archaeological findings. Beads made from other metals and from bones, wood, animal resin, and other substances were in existence by then and they were used for decorative purposes, for ceremonial purposes, and to trade. For this reason, the making of silver beads early on is understandable.

After the discovery of glass, most artisans dropped the manufacture of silver beads and started using glass. This is because glass was seen to be more beautiful and silver was too expensive.

Arabian silversmiths were renowned for making high-quality silver beads. The beads were also extensively made in what is today Bali, they were made by Native American Indians, and they were made in India.

Silver beads were mostly associated with the wealthy, the powerful, and the nobility. They were used to pay ransoms, to pay dowry, to pay off debts, as gifts, as decorations, and for several other purposes.

How Antique Silver Beads Were Made

The method of making silver beads has not changed much. The only difference today is the tools used such as files and drills. The first step was making silver cubes of the desired size. The rough edges were smoothened and a hole made in the center using a sharp object and a mallet.

The silver beads were softened by annealing and they were then cleaned and submerged into the picking solution again before they were rinsed and dried. Annealing was done in a pottery kiln and different temperatures were used in different places, thereby giving different silver beads their individual character.

Since there were no tools such as calipers, it was difficult to determine the center position and most beads ended up being thicker on some sides. This method of making beads meant that no two silver beads were the same. The fact that mass-produced beads are similar, plus the fact that antique silver beads have tear and wear and show signs of aging, should guide you when buying antique silver beads.

Caring for Antique Silver Beads

Although silver is not corrosive, there is a risk of staining and tear and wear and proper care has to be taken. Damage to the silver beads greatly diminishes their value.

Silver is tarnished when it is exposed to the elements, but the tarnish is not permanent and it can be removed using a cotton cloth. Cotton is the best material to clean silver because it does not cause scratching.

When polishing the beads, avoid doing so in a circular movement and adopt a forward movement. The beads should be polished regularly.

You should store your antique silver beads in an air-tight polyethylene bag or wrap it in tissue paper. Air and moisture causes damage to the silver beads.

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