13 May 2014

An Abundance of Beads: Ancient and Antique

Beads are everywhere at Grays. There’s a sea of beads, and when one starts looking, is left speechless for their varied materials, historical range and exquisite quality. Beads may be divided into several categories which are often overlapping. It could be the manufacturing process, period or location of origin, shape or material, mode of use or symbolic significance.

The word ‘bead’ comes from the Anglo Saxon word ‘bidden’ which means ‘to pray’. Beads have been used as currency for exchange, as anti-tension devises, gaming, talisman, status symbol, as jewellery to bring fortune and wisdom, or simply used as an aesthetic object. Dating as far back as 40,000 years, beads have been discovered to have been made from pebbles, clay, teeth, shells etc.

But the discovery of glass production about 4,000 years ago revolutionised the beads’ history and transformed cultural practices, commerce and trade across continents. Early beads have been unearthed in Mesopotamia and Egypt around 2,300 BC. Ancient techniques and designs of glass bead making from Asia were reinvented in Europe in the fourteen century.

Beaded necklaces offered by Kitty Verity

Glass beads were particularly valued in West Africa where they were used for the creation of high-status decorative objects. As glassmaking technologies developed in Europe, beads proved to be an efficient means for exploiting African resources. In particular it was mostly Venice, Bohemia and the Netherlands that traded with Africa, and manufactured an extraordinary variety of beads which were produced according to demand. Large number of people was involved in the production and trade of beads which circulated globally.

A selection of vintage beaded necklaces, offered by Gillian Horsup Vintage Jewellery
Beaded necklace offered by Ting's Jewellery Box 
Chunky Beaded Necklace offered by The Hungry Dinosaur

In London, Moses Lewin Levin, a bead merchant, donated his collection to the Museum of Practical Geology, located at Jermyn Street. Established in 1835, the museum was created in order to illustrate the ‘mineral wealth of the United kingdom and its colonies’. It contained examples of industrial and artistic production, and its displays included glass objects. Much of this collection is now with the Victoria and Albert Museum, and The British Museum. 

Beads have been used all over the world and they are sought after for more than just personal adornment. Each bead encapsulates a phenomenal amount of cultural information that has the power to connect and alienate, in one sweep, people and continents. 
Beaded necklaces offered by Ting's Jewellery Box

Beaded necklaces offered by Kitty Verity
Beaded necklace offered by Kitty Verity
Beaded necklace offered by Kitty Verity
A selection of vintage beaded necklaces, offered by Tribal Tent

Orange bakelite beaded necklace offered by Ting's Jewellery Box
19th Century Amber necklace, offered by IQ Antiques Ltd

For more information visit www.graysantiques.com
Written by Titika Malkogeorgou

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