Stunning single Akoso bead made in Africa.
For more information, please see our comprehensive guide to African-made beads, African Beads: Jewels of a Continent, hardcover, 216 pages, 163 color photographs, $69.95 from Africa Direct.
These are African made powder glass beads which are called "Akoso" beads in the trade. The origins and date of manufacture for these beads is still in dispute but for the most part, these have been dated to the late 1800s/early 1900s. These beads were made from glass (most likely Venetian beads) which was ground to a fine powder. The powder was then placed in a mold and fired in open air ovens until the powder glass fused into solid glass. Many of these old "Akoso" beads have fragments of old Venetian "green hearts" imbedded in them. Some of them have what appear to be "melted" white heart beads imbedded in them. The larger and more sought after "Akoso" beads have a double "U" criss-cross pattern. How this pattern was applied is another controversy. Some experts say this pattern was pre-formed of molten glass and hot worked onto the beads, others say they were formed in the molds prior to the beads being made.
Most of the older African powder glass beads like "Akoso" and "Bodom" beads are still somewhat of a mystery and research on them continues today. In Africa, these beads are held in the highest esteem and usually only worn for celebrations, funerals, and are often buried with the dead. There is much folklore about their magical powers as well.
"Akoso" beads are becoming rarer and rarer to find in the bead market today. Fewer beads are coming in from Africa with the Traders. Most of the "Akoso" beads in America are now in private collections. We feel fortunate to have these to offer.
To learn more about these intriguing beads please see Ornaments From the Past: Bead Studies After Beck (Bead Study Trust), Collectable Beads (Liu), The History of Beads (Dubin) and The Bead is Constant (Wilson).
The term "Trade Beads" typically applies to beads made predominately in Venice and Bohemia and other European countries from the late 1400s through to the early 1900s and traded in Africa and the Americas. Many of these beads have been attributed to being made in Germany, France and the Netherlands as well.
The heyday of this "trade" period was from the mid 1800s through the early 1900s when millions of these beads were produced and traded in Africa. The Venetians dominated this market and produced the majority of the beads sold during this time. The J.F. Sick and Co, based in Germany and Holland was one of the largest bead brokers/importers during this period. Moses Lewin Levin was a bead importer/exporter who operated out of London from 1830 to 1913. You can see 4 of the Levin trade bead sample cards from 1865 in The History of Beads (Dubin)
The popularity of these beads was revived in the late 1960s when they began to be exported from Africa into the United States and Europe. The term "Trade Beads" became very popular during this time period and is still used for the same bead reference today. The millefiori beads were also called "Love Beads" and used in necklaces with peace symbols during the Hippie days.
As the popularity and availability of these old beads grew they started getting "named". We started hearing terms like "Russian Blues", "Dutch Donuts", "King Beads". Although some of these folklore names are totally meaningless...ie...."Lewis and Clarke" beads, they do describe a specific type of bead.
And today these beads are more popular and collectable than ever. Thousands of these beads are in private collections around the world. The African Traders are having to go deeper and deeper into Africa to find more of these beads and many styles which were readily available just 5 years ago are no longer seen today.
To learn more about "trade beads" please read, The History of Beads (Dubin), Collectable Beads(Liu), Ornaments From the Past: Bead Studies After Beck (Bead Study Trust), The Bead Is Constant (Wilson), Arizona Highways (July1971), Africa Adorned (Fisher) and the John and Ruth Picard series of books; Volume III - Fancy Beads from the West African Trade, Volume IV - White Hearts, Feather and Eye Beads from the West African Trade, VolumeV - Russian Blues, Faceted and Fancy Beads from the West African Trade, Volume VI - Millefiori Beads from the West African Trade and Volume VII - Chevron and Nueva Cadiz Beads.
There are exceptional museum collections of trade beads at the Museum of Mankind in London, the Pitt River Museum in Oxford, the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium, the Murano Museum of Glass in Italy, the Tropical Royal Institute of Amsterdam, and the Picard Trade Bead Museum in California, US to name a few.
One of the most intriguing aspects to these beads is how they have survived a hundred or more years of wear and the travel through at least three continents. Another mystery is who wore them before us who will have them next.......after us.
Recommended Reading: HISTORY OF BEADS (Dubin)