Strand of Venetian trade beads (King beads)

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  • Lenght 120 cm
  • Height 60 cm
  • Weight 152 grs


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Outstanding strand of one hundred and fifty trade glass biconical beads. These type of beads were made in Venice as from the beginning of the XIXth century using the lamp work technique. They were made in a variety of colors combining a opaque glass solid color core (yellow, burgundy, black, green, etc) on which linear decoration was applied in a lively combination of colors. These beads were known in the trade as “King beads” and also, locally, as Gololo beads. These beads were among the most important ones in the gold trade in Africa.


Please note that it’s very rare to find this type of beads in such a small size. Average diameter 8-10mm.


We use the term trade beads to refer to the European made glass beads that were used by the European merchants and explorers in the trade in Africa as from the 15th century and continued during their colonial expansion. The history of trade beads in Africa takes us then to the 15th century and the arrival of the European, mainly the Portuguese, to the coasts of West Africa. The European discovered quite soon how much the people they met there fancied beads and saw they an opportunity for trade. Amongst the beads that captivated the African people most were glass beads since the techniques for their making had not yet been developed locally. The locals fell for the precious and colorful glass beads such as Venetian millefiori or chevron beads that the European traders had on offer and bartered them for commodities such as precious woods, ivory, gold and even used, ignominiously, in the slave trade. The increasing demand in Africa of European made glass beads continued quite until the first half of the 20th century and it had a boosting effect in the production in cities such as Venice which glass beads became very popular and coveted.


Lamp working is one of the main techniques for the making of glass beads. Lamp or lamp work beads were made using glass canes that were reheated to a temperature of up to 1000 ºC by means of a blowtorch or blowlamp and which were then wound onto a coated iron rod to avoid the molten glass from sticking to the metal. The beads produced by the artisan by these means could be then further decorated by re-heating the bead using the same lamp work method and applying colored glass rods or glass cane inserts to the surface of the bead creating an endless variation of patterns and making of each bead one of its own.