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All about Venetian Trade Beads

Beads have been used for many years in different cultures. The oldest beads were made from stone, wood, teeth, copper, and other materials. The oldest use of these beads was to bring luck and to offer protection from calamities. Beads were also used as decoration and for trade.

Venetian trade beads are trade beads that were made in Venice, Italy. The Venetians are renowned for the commercial production of beautiful glass beads in large quantities. This started in the 15th Century and continued until the early 1900s. The Venetians were the forerunners in the industry.

Most of the beads made by Venetians were on commission basis. European explorers commissioned them for use in trade in Africa and the Americas. This means there were many different designs because of the different commissions.

In Africa, Venetian trade beads were used by Europeans to exchange for services, goods such as ivory, gold and palm oil, and even slaves. The Africans loved them because of the high intrinsic value they placed in decorative items. They used Venetian trade beads for different purposes such as trade between different tribes, to store wealth, to measure wealth, and as a show of status in the community. One of the most widely used Venetian trade beads is the Millefiori trade beads – Millefiori means ‘a thousand flowers’. The designs on Millefiori trade beads were made using thin colored glass canes.

In the America, Venetian trade beads were used in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. Native Americans had been using beads for many centuries before trade beads were introduced and so they were very receptive to these beads. They used the trade beads as ornaments, to decorate their clothes and baskets, to trade, and in different ceremonies. Christopher Columbus wrote in his log how he had used glass trade beads to impress the natives of San Salvador.

Beads are still made in Venice, but these do not have the name ‘trade’ in them. The technology of making beads has changed and it is now possible to beads that look the same within a short period. When buying Venetian trade beads, you should note that you cannot expect to find them in perfect condition because of their age. You should buy from established websites and stores because they have a name to uphold.

People buy Venetian trade beads as collector items since their value is increasing by an average of 10% each year, as gifts, as decorative ornaments, and simply because they appreciate the history behind their production. The popularity of Venetian trade beads today started in the ‘hippy’ years when young people travelled widely and returned home with the beads.