In the 15th century beads were a major part
of the exchanged currency for people and products
These glass beads are of the kind known as 'trade', 'aggry' or, sometimes, 'slave' beads. They are usually associated with West Africa but created in Europe, particularly Venice, Bohemia and Netherlands. The history of trade beads is dated back to the 15th century when Portuguese trading ships arrived on the coast of West Africa to exploit its many resources, including gold, slaves, ivory and palm oil. At that time, beads were a major part of the currency exchange for people and products, they were not a set of defined form either shapes. Produced on-demand they had various design depending on region to region they were made from, resulting in many thousands of unique of very few pieces always made one by one.
The art of producing the lamp beads declined as glassmaking technologies developed and, for Europeans, beads maintained a cheap and efficient way of exploiting African resources.
The numbers of people involved in trading beads for goods, the diversity of bead design and the fact that European glassmakers and designer moved around makes it difficult to link a bead to a specific time and place. Some beads can be given a more precise provenance through dated sample cards, sample books and bead catalogues produced by European bead trading houses in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, and today held our collections.