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A Thousand Flowers: Millefiori Trade Beads

Millefiori is Italian for ‘a thousand flowers’ and Millefiori trade beads have been popular collectors' beads for many years now. These beads come in different color variations and designs. Millefiori trade beads are also characterized by their long shape which is longer than most ancient beads. They also go by the names Mosaic trade beads and African trade beads. However, the name African trade beads is also used for all types of trade beads that were exchanged with Africans for slaves, palm oil, gold, ivory, and different services.

The Basics of Millefiori Beads

Origins of Millefiori Beads

Millefiori trade beads are Venetian, meaning they were all made in Venice. They got the name from the fact that they had floral patterns. The floral patterns were included because of the intrinsic value Africans placed on decorative items.

How Millefiori are made

Millefiori trade beads were made in two steps. The first step was the making of the cane, or murinne, and the second step was the application of this cane to the molten wound glass core to make the beads.

History of Millefiori beads

The first Millefiori trade beads were used in Africa in the late 1800s, but they could have been used in the mid 1800s. These beads continued to be used through to the early 1900s. They were made on commission basis by Europeans who wanted to ease their way through Africa. Each commission had different specifications and this explains the difference in design and color. They were mostly used in West Africa where most of the slave trade took place.

Africans were enthusiastic about these beads because they placed a lot of intrinsic value on decorative items and because they thought they were genuine currency. They used them to trade among themselves and for various other uses.

Additional Information on Millefiori Beads

Millefiori Beads in the Popular Culture

The popularity of Millefiori trade beads was revived in the late 60s and the early 70s when young people were able to travel the world due to advances in air travel. These ‘hippies’ came back with these trade beads and others started importing them. They quickly grew in popularity and they are very expensive today. In the hippy days, Millefiori trade beads were given the name ‘love beads’ and they were made into necklaces with peace symbols.

People are buying Millefiori trade beads as collector items since they are rising in value by 10% each year, as gifts, and as decorations. Others such as the descendants of slaves buy them just because they appreciate the history behind them.

Cheaper Versions of Millefiori beads

Millefiori trade beads trade beads are so popular that the likes of Kiffa beads of Mauritania are made to mimic Millefiori beads. These are made from powdered glass. Those who cannot afford Millefiori trade beads are making their own Millefiori beads. They are using baked clay and the process is very simple. However, there is need for a glass designer to get the best results.