Friday 24 July 2009

Trade Beads

Wouldn't it be lovely if you could go into a store, choose any items that take your fancy, go to the cashier and, from your huge stash, pull out a sprinking of beads in payment? Maybe exchange a few if the cashier already too many of that type. In the old days, this is exactly what happened on the international trading scene - adventurer traders would set out and trade beads for precious spices, metals and textiles. (By the old days, I mean from as early as the 15th century - until quite recent times.) Beads were custom produced just for trade, the earliest were made in Venice, and though this trade card is quite late, similar cards would have been used to allow traders to choose beads which would bring the highest premium in traded goods. Beads came in a variety of forms since traders were quick to identify shapes which pleased or held great significance for the seller. The most prized in Africa were Talhakimt pendants like the green one you see left.
In the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford there is a whole case devoted to traded beads, some of which resemble very beautiful teeth - I wish I had a picture to show my dentist. In the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasow I found this fabulous beaded Glengarry with a wonderful bird - a bonnet worn by Scottish men. (Image shown with permission from the museum). It comes from North America and it has been beaded with trade beads by a native American - perhaps the owner's wife. Or the hat may have been discarded and picked up by a native American who decorated it according to their own fancy. Whatever its story, I think it is very special. On this rainy afternoon, I shall go hunting through my beads to liven up an old beret. Maybe a beret or woolly hat embellishing project would be fun - what do you think?

1 comment:

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