Friday, November 4, 2011

Trade Bead Story

I gave a program yesterday at the Portland Women's Forum meeting about my collection of Trade Beads.  I'm not sure how many people know about trade beads, but I *love* them and am fascinated by their history.  I became aware of them years ago and began to slowly but surely pick up a strand here and there.   

These beads are called Chevron beads... they are made by layering different colors of glass on long canes, then they're cut and ground into ovals which brings out these fabulous patterns.  They were made by glass bead makers in Venice & Murano, Italy towards the end of the 14th century.
I collected the beads below over years then strung them in a graduated size necklace.  I actually had some bigger ones on here, but it made it very heavy so I removed a few. 
Do you see the uniqueness of each bead?  They've been worn and collected over so many years that they wear down in different ways.. to learn more about the Chevron beads, click here
The beads below may be my oldest - they may have been made in Rome centuries ago.  I restrung them and added the clasp. 
The beads below are called "Russian Blue" beads.  Actually, the beads were made in Bohemia, sold to the Russians, then traded to the Northwest Indians for furs.  This is one of the most popular trade beads in the NW and Alaska.  The strand below, I restrung - I found the blues in an antique shop.

The “Russian Blue” beads in my collection were one of the most treasured beads of the Northwest Indian tribes.  The strand below has an old silver dime that was found with the “clam broth” milky white “Russian Blues” – the coin and beads were found in an old miner’s cabin in the gold rush area of California.
 See the long Russian Blues?  Aren't they pretty?
Here is my most prized strand - it is museum quality - a graduated strand of Russian Blues strung on braided rawhide.   
The facts are - had Lewis and Clark not had beads and Sacajewea and her baby they may never have made it through all the lands inhabited by the native people.  The natives figured that if those strange men had a woman and a baby, they couldn't be all that bad.  The native people also valued the beads above all other trade goods the explorers brought - and even had to try to get some beads back on their return trip to make it home.  Below are some excerpts from Lewis' journal.
The beads below were excavated out of the sands of the Columbia River before The Dalles Dam was completed and flooded all the shores where these were found. I actually did a website for a couple of Indian Goods Traders and "traded" my services for these beads.. just as the Native Indians traded their meat and furs to Lewis & Clark for beads such as these.. and to be honest, these beads *could* have been from the Lewis & Clark Expedition as they were found in the area that they traveled through.
These light blue beads are called Padre Beads, also called "Chief Beads".  I think these were made in China beginning in the 1400s. 
These black beads below may look unassuming, but look closer.. they are all different shapes and colors... the jar in which I got these from the traders had sand still in it from when they were dug out of the river shore.  Some are even faceted.  
The strand below is a mixture of the beads I got from the traders... small Russian blues, reds, whites, "White Hearts", etc.  The carved wooden canoe paddle was made by a local Indian woman and was given to me when I showed my trade bead collection at an event at Multomah Falls.  She didn't own any real trade beads so I gave her a pair of my treasured Russian Blues and made her a pair of earrings. 
I have so many of the different beads from that trade that I made 2 necklaces with them.  I just love this one with all the different colors and shapes. 
A close up.  The yellow bead below is called "Greasy Yellow". 

Many of my Indian trade beads came from the Lloyd McLeod collection, one of the most famous of the old Columbia River stone collections. Most were found between two sites: the Bead Patch and the Maybe site both of which are near The Dalles. The beads were all found before the building of The Dalles Dam.

Mr. McLeod's collection has been featured in “Who's Who #3” and many pieces were used in Emory Strong's book “STONE AGE ON THE COLUMBIA” and NG Seaman's “INDIAN RELICS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST”. In 2005 many of his (now in the possession of others) stone pieces were shown in the excellent Portland Art Museum exhibit "People of the River."

I got these beads from Penny and Jim Guest of Lummi Island Trading Company of Washougal, Washington.  They were asked by Lloyd McLeod to help sell his collection, so these beads came right from the source.

For thousands of years glass beads were traded in early civilizations. Ancient Native American Indians had worn beads for centuries made of antler, bone, copper, shell, stone and wood.  The Vikings, Christopher Columbus' party, Spanish Explorers, Jesuit Priests and Lewis and Clark all brought glass beads for trade with the American Indians. Lewis and Clark brought glass beads to the Idaho Territory as trade beads for the American Indians.  They threw down blankets and sat cross-legged to trade with the Nez Perce producing bits of cloth and red glass beads. The Nez Perce said that they preferred  the blue bead over the red bead.  The bead they referred to was called the sky-blue padre because of its light blue color. The Nez Perce said that the padre bead reminded them of a piece of the sky or sky-blue beads. Earlier the Nez Perce had traded the Sky-blue Padres from the Spanish. The same blue bead, made in China was later traded to the American Indians by the Hudson Bay Fur Trade Company.

I hope you've enjoyed learning about Trade Beads!!  
((hugs)), Teresa :-) 


  1. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing photos of your collection.

  2. What a wealth of history! That is a priceless collection of beautiful colors and materials. Thank you so much for sharing all of that with us!

  3. Wow. Very cool collection! Hope Dayle is recovering well. Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. Wow Teresa you never cease to maze me with your knowledge and your collections of such beautiful things. Your history lesson has been fascinating thankyou. Anne x

  5. PS that should read 'amaze me' grin

  6. Hi Teresa, That was really interesting! I love your collection and all the history, you have done quite a bit of research. I think you qualify to be called a historian! Love the multi-colored bead necklace and the lovely dark blue in the graduating sizes.
    Hope you hubby is doing well, resting and listening to nurse Teresa.
    Have a nice weekend, xoRobin❤

  7. Teresa this fascinates me! Ilove American history, and history in general! I was absolutely awestruck while I toured Italy foe three weeks a few years ago. If you havenot read the book Sacajawea yet, you must! It was written by Anna Lee Waldo and is 1000 pages of pure delight! I read it when I was pregnant with my daughter 31 years ago and still remember it vividly! Lovely beads and wonderful post! You are so lucky to have these treasures in your possession!!

  8. I wish I could join your 'Portland Women's Forum' This post and your photographs of your collection are fascinating. What a history and an education. I can see why those beads were highly prized they a so beautiful. I am still enjoying my Molly Gloss Novel you recommended ' The Jump Off creek', I will have to order another bedtime won't be the same without it! xxx

  9. How interesting! And how cool that you have so many nice beads with fascinating history! Wonderful post and info.

  10. What a great collection of beads. Thanks for sharing them and telling some of the history of them which is really intersting :-) xx

  11. Wow! A fascinating history of which I only knew a little about. How interesting that you own these beads that have such incredible history.

  12. Wow. You have quite a collection. The beads are beautiful. Beautiful. I real tresure. It is so great that you know so much about them.

  13. What an interesting post Teresa. I loved reading all about your beautiful beads. I'd not heard of trade beads before - quite fascinating. Thanks for showing us your treasures.

  14. Hi Teresa I did enjoy reading about trade beads! Although I'd heard of them I knew very little about them, and I found your post really interesting. What a very knowledgable lady you are! The beads are so beautiful too, those powerful blues are amazing and I also rather like the one called 'greasy yellow'! Have a happy weekend.
    Helen x

  15. Teresa, what an amazing post. I love that you collect these wonderful beads, and the story behind them. Hope Dayle is feeling better with every day.

  16. Teresa, How interesting. Thanks for taking the time to share all that on your blog. I really learned something. My favorites are the Roman beads, the padre beads and the string of black beads. Really neat!

    Debby in Indiana

  17. I;ll be back to read more tomorrow but looks like a very informative history of trade beads and adore the blues..a colour l've been drawn too just lately
    Downton calling for tonight
    Hugs x

  18. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing your collection and knowledge.

  19. I found your Trade Beads story quite interesting. I was doing a search for Lloyd Mcleod and this site popped up. I am selling several items from Mcleod's collection for a friends widow that recently passed away. He had quite a collection.
    Thank you for the great story on Trade Beads. I will bookmark this page and visit it when I need more info.
    Thank you

    1. Hi there, I would love to hear more about your trade beads you're selling.. please contact me at

    2. I am sorry but I forgot about this site and clicked on it again. I will send you an email soon. I just got several dozens of trade beads from my friends widow. Please check out some of them that I have on ebay. stan98532

  20. Really Fantastic!!
    Reading this article has been a enjoyable experience.You made some fine points there.I also like it very much .I am glad that I came to this page.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this article.
    Munmun Nishi

    Ghana Beads "


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