|Other Names||Mosaic beads|
|Type of Object||Wound and decorated glass|
|Approximate Age||Late 19th-mid 20th Century|
|Overall Condition||Good. Some of our beads have traveled at least three continents, and have graced numerous owners.|
|Damage/Repair||General wear, chipped end.|
|Bead Size||14 mm diameter, 44 mm p-p. See picture with penny for size comparison. U.S. penny is 19mm in diameter.|
Millefiori is an Italian word meaning " a thousand flowers". Millefiori beads are also known as "mosaic" beads throughout the world. The making of millefiori beads is a two-step process. First, the murrine or cane is made and then these are applied to a molten wound glass core and made into beads.
The millefiori beads made in Venice were imported by the thousands to Africa beginning in the late 1800s and traded or sold for various things. Most of the surviving bead sample cards, showing these beads as they were originally sold are dated to the 1920s, but this does not mean these beads were not made before that time. As shown on the bead timeline in the History of Beads (Dubin) millefiori beads are dated to the mid-1800 through the early 1900s.
Old millefiori beads started to be imported to the United States from Africa in the late 1960s and were sold as "Trade Beads" by importers and African Traders. Some African Traders today will show you millefiori beads if you ask for "Trade Beads".
The term "Trade Beads" typically applies to beads made predominantly 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.
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.
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, the Bead Museum in Arizona, US 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 and who will have them next.......after us.