Tomato beads are a type of seed bead that was commonly used during the African slave trade in past centuries. Originating from Venice where they were manufactured, tomato beads are large and slightly translucent. They have an irregular rounded shape and may appear in brilliant shades of red and yellow. Largely traded in Ethiopia, tomato beads get their name from their tomato-like shape and served as one of the earliest forms of trade currency in this region. A high intrinsic value was placed on tomato beads as the people of this region, just as everywhere else in Africa, truly valued decorative items such as beads.
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Aja beads were historically made in Venice in the early 20th century, from drawn glass tubes which were cooled and cut into small slices. Once cut, the slices of drawn cane were thereafter exposed to heat until the glass softened or slumped. This caused the beads to flatten and their hard cut edges to soften and become rounded. Experts speculate that the process of slumping was in actual fact carried out in Africa as there is no evidence of the slumped slices ever being sold in Venice. Aja beads range in size, color and canes with the most spectacular being crafted from Rosetta or chevron cane. These beautiful and somewhat unusual beads are today used to craft exquisite jewelry pieces such as those featuring 4-layer “yellow jacket” slices.
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In the 19th – 20th century, Fancy Glass beads – also known as lamp-wound beads, featured as a vital part of the Venetian bead production. These comprised of beautiful beads which were crafted by hand from interesting pieces of glass with spectacular floral designs. Fancy Glass beads are today available in the form of pressed glass beads which take on various colors, shapes and sizes. Some popular Fancy Glass bead shapes for modern jewelry designs include the round, oval and faceted oval beads. Today, Fancy Glass beads can be used to make jewelry items such as bracelets, anklets, chokers and necklaces for both modern women and men with an eye for fashion.
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Padre beads are glass beads whose origin is traced back to ancient China. In the late 18th century, these beads spread rapidly in use in Southwest and Northwest America, following the trading patterns of Russian and Spanish traders. Padre beads were available in 3 sizes: jumbo Dogons measuring 5/8’s to ¾ inches in diameter; mid-sized Crow beads measuring 3/8’s inches in diameter and the small Pony beads measuring 3/16’s inches in diameter. Padre beads were available in a variety of colors, with blue and white being most valuable historically and the only ones acceptable for trade amongst the Indians.
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Olumbo beads are old Czech beads made from glass which were popularly worn by the Nigerian people at the height of African trade in the past centuries. Olumbo beads were part of the selection of African trade beads which were used for purposes of trade by African kings and chiefs while trading in slaves, ivory and other goods with western sea faring merchants as far back as the late eighteenth century. Today, Olumbo beads can be strung on raffia – bead to bead, to create beautiful bracelets and necklaces for the discerning beaded jewelry lover. The beads are usually available in attractive colors such as pink and various other shades of red, but can be found in green.
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Because of their rarity, yellow jacket beads are some of the most highly sought after beads by bead collectors the world over. Yellow jacket beads are distinctly characterized by the precision and detail that goes into making these exquisite layered glass trade beads by hand. Yellow jacket beads receive their name from their coat which features black beads with yellow stripes – which pretty much resembles the appearance of the yellow jacket bees. Yellow jacket beads are another type of African trade beads which were used as currency for trade during the pre-19th century period, mainly in West African countries such as Ghana.
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Venetian beads are made using a bead making technique which originated in Venice during the late nineteenth century and were historically used as trading currency in Africa. Today, antique Venetian beads are prized by bead collectors around the world due to their rarity. Venetian beads are renowned for their very high level of craftsmanship and the fact that every bead is made by hand, which makes each individual bead unique. Venetian beads are also recognized for their distinctive floral appearance, as well as their beauty, intricate designs and vivid colors which make them ideal choices for creating the most exquisite of jewelry items.
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Beads made from all sorts of materials including brass, glass and metal may be referred to as “fancy beads”. These beads may be labeled “fancy” due to the elaborate decorations that adorn their surfaces. For instance, fancy beads may be decorated with dots, lines, trails and engravings to fit in with their fancy description. Fancy beads may also be shaped after decorating to give them an even more interesting pattern. Fancy beads will typically receive their fascinating patterns and decorations while still in molten state to allow for easier shaping. During the decoration process, glass rods may be used to apply numerous dots, as well as wavy lines or trails to the fancy beads.
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Button beads are small glass beads which resemble modern buttons, although they do not have a group of central holes. These beads date back to the Etruscan period and the time of the Roman Empire, but later found their way to Syria and Egypt. Button beads are generally very beautiful and boast artistic workmanship. Today as in the past, button beads are used to make exquisite necklaces using these beads entirely, some of which may be cemented together two and two in order to form a single bead. Button beads take on various shapes including circular, flat, oval, plane, convex or convex-concave shapes.
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Kiffa beads are rare powder glass beads which acquired their name from Kiffa, a city in Mauritania where they were first documented by French ethnologist R. Mauny in 1949. Kiffa beads represent one of the highest levels of bead making skill, artistry and ingenuity due to the fact that they were created using the simplest tools and materials available, and in open fires. These materials included pulverized European glass beads or their fragments, bottle glass, tin cans, pottery shards, steel needles and some gum Arabic. Decorations for the beads were made from the glass slurry – the crushed glass mixed with a binder and then applied using a pointed tool such as a steel needle. The beads were then placed in small containers such as sardine cans and thereafter heated to fuse them in an open fire, without the need for molds.
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