The Beauty of Antique Trade Beads

Antique trade beads have a rich and diverse history wherever they are found. They continue to be priceless even in modern times, and they can be used as ornaments or design pieces for your wardrobe or home.

History of antique trade beads

The most popular type of antique trade beads are African trade beads.  These antique beads are of two origins: from Europe for buying African slaves, and from Africa for the Africans’ own uses. The first type of beads were manufactured during the colonial period and found their way to Africa through traders. Some of these beads were also worn by the slaves to identify them to their owners.

The second type of bead were found mostly in West and Southern Africa. In Ghana and Nigeria, for example, their glass beads were both for trade and symbols of royalty and prestige. Their beads were made from powdered glass and worn around the neck, arms and feet. Their color, number and size spoke a lot about an individual, and you can still find them worn in modern West Africa today.

Trade beads were also a part of Native American Indian culture. Glass trade beads were introduced into the Americas as far back as in the days of Christopher Columbus. He gave beads to the natives that he found in the new land, and the beads were handed down through the generations of Native Americans to this day. These beads were used in trading fur with the Indians, and the more beads the Indians had, the higher they rose in prestige.

Materials used for making antique trade beads

The materials that trade beads are made of depend mostly on the time and place that they were made. The most common materials were bone, seeds, wood, stone and glass. Each has its own style of design and value depending on whether they are African, Asian or European.

Choosing antique trade beads

With their diverse and colorful history, antique trade beads are highly valuable to collectors and bead lovers alike. As with other forms of beads, trade beads can be manufactured and sold as “vintage” at a much lesser quality and value. There are ways to tell the genuine antique trade beads from manufactured ones.

  1. The feel of material that the antique trade beads are made of

    The different materials have their distinctive weight and temperature that help you determine authenticity. Plastic trade beads, or those made from recycled materials, feel warmer to the touch as compared with bone and glass trade beads. They are also lighter in weight compared with stone trade beads.

  2. The technique of making the bead

    Antique trade beads reflect the skills of the craftsmen and women that made them. The beads should not be perfectly symmetrical and should have no seams to show that they are handmade. Any trade beads that have seams and are perfect in shape are machine made.

  3. There should be some signs of natural aging

    Dents, scratches, cracks and chips are normal with genuine antique trade beads. These show that your antique beads have been in existence for many years, unlike manufactured beads that look brand new.

  4. Learn about antique trade beads

    Before making your purchase, it is best to read up on antique trade beads to help you compare the different beads that you are provided with. Do not only rely on the antique beads trader to explain things to you. Become knowledgeable with antique trade beads first to get the best deals.

  5. Have an expert value the beads

    If you have any doubts about your antique trade beads, why not find an antique specialist who can find out their authenticity for you? It should dispel all doubts that you may have, and you can learn a lot more about your trade beads in the process.

Alternatives to finding authentic trade beads

If you find that antique trade beads are a bit pricey for you, there is the option of buying genuine handmade beads made from contemporary African craftsmen. These are still authentic and beautiful, but less costly than antique trade beads. The bead designs and materials are still obtainable today, and you can have your own collection of trade beads at a lesser price.

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