Now available: Beads from Jablonec

Now available: Beads from Jablonec

After many trips to Jablonec Nad Nisou over the last few years, I have finally finished my book ‘Beads from Jablonec’. It describes the history of beadmaking in the Czech town Jablonec Nad Nisou from the start, centuries ago, to present day.

I call it ‘ a history in beads’, as the history of the town and it’s inhabitants is so closely linked to the industry of beads, glass and jewelry in the region. Important historical moments, such as the end of WWII or the fall of the communist regime are mirrored by changes in the bead industry.

The book is available for a free download in PDF here: Beads from Jablonec.  Please note: it is a large file, 37 MB. Download may take a while.
Please feel free to share this book, so many people can learn of the history of beadmaking in Jablonec.

The book is also available in print from the online publisher Blurb. You can fink a link to my book here.
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New book: Beads from Tucson

Sooner or later, every bead collector, jewelry maker or rock enthousiast will hear about Tucson. Each year, the world meets in Tucson for beads, stones and jewelry at an amazing set of events: The Tucson Gem Shows. Over 40 shows are set up late january/early february and they are all different. You can visit a fancy show with high end jewelry and diamonds, a parking lot filled with stalls selling huge fossils and rocks in barrels and an African village, all in the same day.

When I visited the show early 2012, I wanted to learn more about not only the shows, but also the people that make up the Tucson experience. What does it mean to sell and buy at this show? How has it changed over the years? What is good advice for first time visitors? All of this and more can be found in my new book: Beads from Tucson. It is available in print from the publisher Blurb.

Order your book here

I have learned so much from people willing to share their experiences with the Tucson shows and beads in general, that I want the information in this book to be available to as many people as possible. That is why the book is also available for downloading (in a compressed image format) for free. Please note, downloading may take a while as it is a large file size.
Edit: I have also added the full pdf version, which is 33 mb, and has good quality images.

You can download Beads from Tucson here in compressed pdf format (12 mb)

You can download Beads from Tucson here in large pdf format (33 mb)
Please comment, share the book, and let me know what your Tucson experiences are!

Beads from Briare: now available

My first book on the production of Prosser beads from the French village of Briare is now available on Blurb.com. It can be bought as a paper book, or an ebook.

Below you can find part of the introduction of the book, and some of the pictures featured in the book.

Introduction

Beads are good at telling stories. Stories of people, craftsmen, trade and fashion. The beads from Briare in France tell the story of the industrial revolution, global trade and an entrepeneur from France. Industrial advancement in Europe changed the way we work, cook, travel, and the way we make beads.
In this book you can find the story of how beads suddenly were produced so much quicker, so much cheaper, and on a completely new scale. It is the story of a bead revolution from France.

The book starts off with a general description of trade beads and the production of glass beads in chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 3 shows how Prosser beads are made. In chapters 4 and 5 the focus is on the Bapterosses factory in Briare and the beads that were manufactured there, including the dumpsite of tiles, buttons and beads in Briare. Chapter 6 deals with the competition between different beadmakers in Europe. The final conclusion on the role of beadmaking in Briare in the worldwide trade and production of beads makes up the last chapter.

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2602875

Beads: made in Amsterdam

A lot is still unclear about what beads were and weren’t made in Amsterdam. Dutch traders played a big role in the distribution of trade beads, but their role in the production is still not completely uncovered. Some more of the Amsterdam beadmaking history has recently seen the light, with the publication of a report by the archeological department of the city of Amsterdam. This report shows and explains the finds from excavations done at the ‘Rozengracht’ in 2006. Most interesting are the finds from the glasshouse ‘De Twee Rozen’, which means ‘The Two Roses’. This glasshouse dates from 1657 and was in business untill 1669. In the glasshouse they both produced frit, which is the raw material for glass production, and actual glass objects, including beads.

From the glass waste, half finished products and finished glass items, the archeologists were able to get a good sense of how the glasshouse worked and what they made. I was obviously mostly interested in the beads. The types of beads or bead parts they mostly found are: plain and striped small drawn beads, millefiori cane slices, a speo beads and chevron beads. I will discuss these different beads. Due to copyright on the report, I can not use any of the images on this blog. However, with the link and instructions at the bottom of this post, the full report can be downloaded from the city of Amsterdam. I will refer to the beads by the numbers and pictures that can be found from page 112 and further. An overview of the different types of beads are on page 44. Also, I am using some (poor) pictures that I made at the very small exhibit at the city archives that is currently on display.

A lot of small drawn beads are found at the glasshouse. Most of them are long ‘bugle’ type drawn beads. They come in a great range of colours. Some of the beads have stripes, either horizontal or twisted siagonally. Numbers 7.1.1 to 7.1.10 are ecamples of beads like this.
In the glass lot, some millefiori cane slices were found that show a great level of skill and are quite unlike other millefiori beads and canes I have seen before. The canes could be used for beads, as decoration on glasses or goblets or on other glass products. No finishes millefiori glasswork was found by the archeologists. Most of the canes that are found are made by arringing a lot of tiny glass rods together and fusing them. These tiny rods look very much like the drawn beads, with the distinction that they have no perforation. Examples can be seen on page 127, numbers 8.5.2, 8.5.3 and 8.5.4.
The result are beautiful canes such as on page 130, numbers 8.7.6, 8.7.7 and 8.7.8.
An other type of millefiori slices show an image of a skull, which is quite remarkable. The canes slices can be found on page 131, number 8.7.10.

After the drawn beads, the bulk of the glass beads that were found were the ‘a speo beads’. Drawn beads, with several layers and stripes, are cut into pieces. These pieces are placed on a metal rod and heated in the furnace. As a result of the heat, the edges of the bead are rounded. A lot of the beads that were found were beads that had flaws, for example because they were accidentally fused together in the furnace.

Finally, two pieces of chevron beads were found. One is very small, and the other is quite big. They can be found on page 121, number 7.4.1 and 7.4.2. I am no expert on chevron beads, but certainly the big one looks to me like the 7-layer chevron beads that are usually said to be made in Venice around 1600. It would be really suprising to me, if they were also made in the glasshouse ‘The Two Roses’. Only two pieces of finished chevron beads were found, but no canes or star molds. It seems more likely to me, that they were part of the inventory of beads that the glass house used for reference.
The big chevron piece has a wonderful neon green patina from being buried and is quite impressive.

So far my quick review of the archeological report, which was fascinating to read. It is very uncommon for beads to be found with so much information surrounding them, and with such extensive research being done. I highly recommend at least a glance through it. It is written in Dutch, but has an English summary and list of figures in English. The report can de downloaded at this site from the city of Amsterdam.  The report is number 50, with the title ‘Rozenstraat’. The report is also available in print from the city archive.

Beadmaking in Jablonec

There are several techniques for making glass beads. Generally, beads are either wound, blown, drawn of molded. On my trip to Jablonec I mostly looked into molded beads. They show a great variety in colours and shapes and are very attractive. The technique of molding beads is more than 200 years old, and has not changed that much since. In this post I will go into the basis technique.

It starts with large glass canes. These canes are made in the larger factories or workshops, and bought by the smaller pressing workshops. They cane be made from one solid colour, or have different colours for special effects. This picture shows some different left over pieces of cane. The full canes are generally about 4 feet long. They come in different widths.

There are two ways for molding the beads. One is manual molding, where the glass cane is heated and pushed into shape with big metal pliers or pinchers. Sometimes the pliers also pierce a hole into the bead, or this is done by a second person. In Jablonec I bought one of these old pliers that both shape and pierce a bead.

The second and now more common type of making molded beads is mechanical, and much quicker. Several glass canes are heated in a furnace and used one after another in a machine for molding. The end of the glass canes gets very hot and malleable, and beads can be molded. After a few inches of one cane is used, it is put back in the furnace and the beadmaker coninues with another hot cane. I saw this fascinating process in a small workshop in Jablonec.

The next picture shows the molded beads, still attached to each other, coming out at the other end of the machine. Unfortunately, the picture is not very good. Also added is a picture of the molds used in a machine like this.

After this molding, the bead is far from finished yet. The flash on the seam has to be removed. This can be done with a simple piece of equipment of two round blades cutting off the glass.

After this, sometimes the seam is ground down further, and the bead is tumble-polished and/or fire-polished.

The result? Wonderfully diverse beads in all the shapes you can imagine.

Below are some examples of bead sample cards form the museum in Jablonec.

 

 

A city with a heart of beads: Jablonec Nad Nisou

Beads and glass items have been made in the Czech Republic, before known as Bohemia, as early as the 16th century. Gablonz or Jablonec Nad Nisou is and was the main centre for beadmaking in this area. Molded beads, cut crystal beads, lampworked beads, blown beads and Christmas ornaments: The Czech industry in Jablonec Nad Nisou was extensive in both variety and quantity. The records held by the local authorities give detailed accounts of what was made, when, by whom and who worked where. The book ‘ Beads from Gablonz’ by Waltraud Neuwirth, and Austrian glass historian, goes into great detail with the techniques and records of the industry. An example from the statistics in 1870 that were recorded: “The production as raw glass rods, prisms, press-molded and composition glass amounted to 60,438 ctr (A ctr is 50 kilograms), worth fl. 907,000. 268 cutting works, which used water power for the most part, were counted. In these cutting works , some 2,859 men, 975 women and 140 children, a total of 3,974 workers were employed” (Neuwirth, page 23)

This summer I visited Jablonec Nad Nisou. I specifically wanted to find out more about prosser and molded beads, but also get a general idea of what a place with so much bead history is like. It was both impressive and slightly saddening. Let’s start with the sad part. Even though the industry is known for it’s ups and downs, the current competion from cheap Chinese beads is a real test to the Czech beadmakers. Both labour and materials are cheaply available in China, and the prices are so low, that the Czech beads are struggling to compete. For someone who looks closely, you can often (but not always) see the difference in quality. But not everybody is willing to pay for this difference. From the tourist information office we were given a glossy leaflet which listed all the different retail and wholesale bead and bijouterie stores. The leaflet was made in 2009, but when we went around to these places, about one third of them had shut down. Some of the retail shops still around were selling Chinese beads as if they were Czech, instead the actual Czech beads made less than a mile away. The boggest company, Jablonex, has now been taken over by another company, and the offices and factories are empty.

However, as I said, the beadmaking industry in Bohemia has had it’s ups and downs before. The competition from the French, with their cheap Prosser beads in the 1870’s, the competition the Venice with their fancy beads, and with the expulsion of the ‘Sudeten German’ beadmakers after WWII. Who knows what the Czechs will come up with this time to fight off the competition?

Jablonec left a great impression on me, which I think it will do on any beadcollector. Most striking is how the bead industry is at the heart of the town and it’s people. Everybody seems to have links to the industry, and everywhere around you glass workshops are hidden away. This was most onbvious to me at the appartment we were staying at. There are not too many places to stay in Jablonec Nad Nisou, and I pretty randomly picked an appartment.  ‘The Pinks Street House’ was rented out by a Czech woman who now lived in the UK. Still not quite sure if it was a coincidence or just the way this town works, but it showed us we were staying at the heart of the bead industry. The building was built by Konrad Weberlich, a glassmaker, at the end of the 19th century. People who lived there from the 50’s onwards had been working from home, stringing beads. And the Czech woman who grew up there and owns the building could put me in touch with a very helpful lady still working at a bead factory.We arrived at the appartment only to find the soil of the garden mixed with beads, and big rods of glass used to put plants up. I could not have asked for a more appropriate place to stay. The beads in the garden were discarded by the people who worked at home, stringing beads. Sitting under the lovely pear tree, stringing jewelry, and throwing away beads that were not perfect.If only the beads would sprout, and produce bead trees!

In another blogpost I will go into more detail about the beadmaking process, the museum and recommendations for when you visit this town. For now…..Here is the wonderful advertisement of a beadmaking company on the main road when you enter the town.

Krobo beads from Ghana

From bottles to beads

The beadmaking industry of Ghana is very much alive. Not only do they produce wonderful beads, they are also an example of sustainability and recycling.

In the Dutch Afrikamuseum, I was fortunate enough to join a workshop by beadmaker and entrepeneur Florence Asare from Ghana. She went from selling trade beads in the market, to a beadmaking business with dozens of bead workers. In this post I will show the different steps involved n the making of Krobo beads.

There are three types of beads made from recycled glass. The first are powderglass beads, which are made from bottles that are smashed and ground until they are a very fine powder. They can be mixed with pigments for a whole array of colours. A reusable mold from clay is soaked in kaolin that leaves a powdery finish which serves as a releasing agent. Little sticks of cassave stem are placed in the mold to form the hole in he finished bead. The powdered glass is poured into the mold, and any excess gets wiped off with a feather. The molds go into the oven, and are left there for some time between half an hour and an hour, depending on size and heat. When they are removed form the oven, and cooled, they can be decorated. They are punt on a stick made from a bycicle spoke, wood, and kept in place with a rubber stopper made from old sandals.The decoration is done with a paste of powdered glass with pigment and water. A specific example Florence mentioned: bottles of malibu liquor are used for white powder glass. The decoration is placed on the bead with a pointy wooden stick. It takes a lot of practice to make the pretty designs. Some designs are made to resemble antique trade beads, like millefiori. The stick of beads are dried by the oven, after which they are placed in a bigger mold to be baked in the oven to bake the glass paste. Once finished, they are ground slightly on a rough stone with water, to remove any edges and the kaolin. Finally they are polished with some unscented baby oil.

The second type of beads are made with rough little pieces of glass. Again, it uses crushed bottles, but it is not made as fine as the powderglass. The result is a more transparant bead, they are most often green, brown and blue. The glass is placed in a mold, but without a stick. After the mold has been in the oven for some time, and the glass is red hot, the blob of glass is shaped in the mold by poking a hole in it, turning it over, and trying to make it round. We found this requires quite a bit of skill, and working quickly. Most of the students’ beads of this type were only half round or broken.

The last type of beads are quite similar to the second type, but only one piece of glass is used, They are made with small pieces of glass, that are all cut to the same size. They can be cut from window glass for example. A little square piece is put in a mold, and after baking, a hole is quickly pierced into it with a skewer.
All beads are finished by grinding and washing it on a stone and polished with the oil.

The ovens used are made of mud, on a base of old metal truck parts. They are generally powered by firewood, but Florence is working with a new method of using (part) natural gas, to reduce the effects on the environment.


It is a fascinating process to watch, and even more fascinating to take part in it and make your own beads. It is not something you can easily do at home, but when you are ever in Ghana….visit Florence Asare from TK Beads.