Africa Direct
Africa Direct

3 Lewis and Clark Venetian Trade Beads Black Floral Africa | loose

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Title 3 Lewis and Clark Venetian Trade Beads Black Floral Africa
Other Names elbow beads
Type of Object Wound and decorated glass
Made In Venice
Traded In Africa
Approximate Age Late 19th to mid 20th century
Overall Condition Good. Some of these beads have traveled at least three continents, and have graced numerous owners. Small chips, corrosion, and pitting are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.
Damage/Repair Pitting and chips.
Bead Size 11-12 mm diameter, 24-28 mm p-p.  See picture with penny for size comparison.
Strand Length 10 inches (includes string/raffia)
Brand Unbranded
Style Beaded
Type Loose beads

Additional information: "Lewis and Clark" beads were produced in the famous glass-making workshops of Murano between 1800 and 1920. Murano, an island off the coast of Venice, had been a world renowned center for glass-making since the end of the 13th century, when Venetian leaders relocated the city-state’s glass foundries to the comparative safety of the island. The Murano glass industry grew quickly and flourished. Trade secrets were fiercely protected, and bead-makers based on the island were required by law to stay there for the course of their lifetimes. The dazzling array of glass beads produced on Murano was exported to destinations across the world—most notably in the baggage of Dutch and German traders, who carried Murano beads to Africa and the Americas.

One style of black glass bead with trailed decorations became particularly popular in North America, and was associated with the great transcontinental incursions of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at the beginning of the 19th century. The Lewis and Clark expedition carried with it a stock of beads for the purpose of smoothing its passage through territories hostile to outsiders. There is no record of whether the beads that now carry their name were in fact a part of Lewis and Clark’s cargo. Either way, the beads that the explorers offered did not have the desired effect, as the native peoples were interested primarily in plain blue beads. "Lewis and Clark" beads were much more successful when traded into West Africa, and it is from that region that the beads listed here have come to us.

With special thanks to Graham Romanes, from whose writing the above information is primarily drawn.