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About Czech Glass Beads

Stockists of Czech pressed glass beads in an extraordinary range of sizes and shapes from round, tubes and leaves to triangles, flowers and oval.

Pressed glass is inexpensive and available in a vast range of finishes which include transparent, opaque, milky and tortoise and shapes which includes squares, petals, cubes, coins, trapezoids, bicones, rectangles and barrels with such an abundance of options, you will find it hard to select pressed glass as you will want them all!

Etelage stocks over 400 different Czech pressed glass beads which you can buy online or at retail craft shows. Czech glass beads can be used in jewellery making, hand sewing, beaded embellishment and crafting projects.

The North Bohemian region, with its centuries-old glass-making traditions, has become the cradle of machine cutting and polishing for the last century, think your nana’s chandeliers, her cut glass vases, crystal drinking ware and most of her jewels. Sadly most of our glass ware is now mass produced in China however there exists a small cottage industry for pressed glass bead production.

Why we Love Czech Glass Beads and You will Too!

  • Their diversity: colour, shape and size
  • Their quality: uniform hole
  • Their heritage: Czech tradition since the 16thC of bead making
  • Their design possibilities: they are perfect for both modern designs and recreating vintage style

How Glass Rods Are Made?

Glass is made of very accessible, basic ingredients – a fusion of fire, sand, soda and lime. It is the only raw material, unlike wood, fibre, stone and clay, that has to be made, and because of its nature, i.e molten, does not allow considered and slow crafting. The technical description of glass is known as “rigid liquid”. Glass goes with the flow, when things heat up and then it just chills at room temperature.

The effect of changing shades within the glass continues to fascinate me, whether it is a bowl, a vase or bead.  These finishes are achieved by one of the following manufacturing processes:

  • Chemical processes, for example, vacuum coating the surface of the bead. This can be a full or half coating.
  • The physical combination of two or more colours combinations. Satin finish, for example,   is the result of combining opaque and transparent molten glass rods within one cane. It is also known as moonstone or moonshine.
  • Striking by reheating the glass, to change its colour, when only part of the glass is reheated, produce two colours within the one piece.

How Are Czech Pressed Glass Beads Made?

The C19th saw a period of industrial innovation. In the Czech Republic the first automated machines were patented in the late C19th. New machines were developed producing a vast variety of beads, by a process of pressing molten glass rods into a heated mold. This meant that thousands of identical beads could be turned out quickly and inexpensively.

Although there have been some improvements – mainly in working conditions, the critical processes of bead manufacture remain unchanged. The only limiting factor in the C19th was the process of manufacturing the moulds, which was both difficult and precise. Cottage crafters were given several moulds for each bead press and turned out beads to order for their local factory until about until 1945. It was then under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia that the entire glass making industry was nationalised. Since the 1990’s there has been a return to cottage industry bead making.

The History of Czech Glass Beads

Did You Know?

Beads had been made in Bohemia since Roman times, but it was an intermittent industry.

  • 1400s North Bohemia becomes a glass manufacturing centre with abundance of natural resources to make glass
  • The second half of the 16th century, when costume jewellery become fashionable, glass makers started producing beads to be used more decoratively.
  • 1700s “Sample men” travelled globally from Africa to Tibet to trade glass beads.
  • 1800s The Industrial Revolution! Machines allowed mass production of moulded pressed glass beads.
  • The first recorded showing at a trade show in Prague of pressed glass beads was in 1829.
  • By the 1860s, the Czech bead industry had surpassed its rival, Venice.
  • 1928 Czechoslovakia was the largest exporter of beads and jewellery in the world.
  • 1948 The Communist government nationalised the bead industry which became a single state run monopoly. Penal labour was used at the core of the bead making production and jewellery assembly in Communist Czechoslovakia.

When Jablonec the great bead, button and jewellery making hub in now what is known as the Czech Republic became part of the Russian bloc, at the end of World War II,  (1945) the Germans, known as the Suduten Deutsch, (Germany had called that region of Bohemia Sudutenland) were forced out of their homes and businesses. Taking few possessions with them, with only 48 hours notice of their expulsion, they left everything behind. Their furniture, their china, their livehoods. Everything! The German refugees walked into war torn Germany, and most of the bead makers ultimately settled in Bavaria more than 600km away from Jablonec.

Efforts were made to keep all the bead makers together, so the bead industry would survive, and a bombed out ammunitions factory outside was purchased for this purpose. The town was named Neu Gablonz.

The beads were made in the US Zone of Occupied Germany, between 1945 and 1949.  The division into these four zones (French, American, British and Russian) was in place by July 1945, after a period of negotiation by the Allies and subsequent troop movement. At first, each occupying power had authority in their respective areas. Eventually the three western zones were combined to form the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1949, with the Soviets forming the Germany Democratic Republic (GDR), also in 1949.
The “Made in Germany US Zone” marking is understood to encompass most of southern Germany and covers the time between the end date of WWII and the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany, i.e. 1945 to 1949

Meanwhile in 1945 in communist Czechoslovakia the entire glass making industry was nationalised into a single state run monopoly, Jablonex, controlled all exports including glassware, glass jewellery  and glass beads, where previously at its height there had been over 2,000 agents exporting glass. In 2009 the Jablonex Group was sold to Preciosa a glass cutting company. And despite passing through history’s threshing machine with a series of conquering rulers, including kings, emperors, freedom fighters, Gestapo thugs and communist dictators, the artisans are still at it. The country side is dotted with houses which are still easily identifiable, notable for their two chimneys, indicating that a glass furnace anchored one part of the property.

European Glass Trade Beads – A History

Beads found their way into Africa by the thousands of caravans that crossed the Sahara from the 7 century AD. Muslim Arabs conquered Mediterranean Africa and began exchanging brass, cloth, stones glass beads and Baltic amber for West African gold, ivory and slaves. Thus began the development of Islamic empires within north and West Africa notable Ghana and Mali.
The Arab coastal trade into east Africa and the Portuguese exploration of African coastline in the 15th cent. A string of Muslim city states, notably Timbuktu and Djenne in Mali, Mogadishu and Kilwa on the mainland in North West Africa and later on the island of Zanzibar on the east coast which emerged as part of an Indian Ocean trading network.

Glass beads were traded for incense, ivory, tortoise shell, rhino horn, palm and coconut oils, timber, iron and gold. Between 1500s and 1867 slavers shipped an estimated 15 million Africans to the Americas; routinely exchanging European made glass beads for their human cargo.

Early European Bead Production

The dawn of the colonial era late 19th century saw an explosion of European bead production and trade. Glass factories in Venice and Czech Republic became expert in catering for African tastes and preferences. Sample cards were prepared and distributed. Knowledge of what type of bead was popular in different regions was vital for would be explorers since a miscalculation would leave them with heavy sacks of untradeable beads and no means of buying vital supplies.

When sticking up in Zanzibar from the shiploads of beads imported from Europe, the explorer Henry Morten Stanley wrote in 1872 his calculations for his journey to Lake Tanganyika noting a “total of 22 sacks of beads in 11 varieties.” Among the most popular types were tiny glass seed beads from Jablonec in Czechoslovakia and the multi coloured Venetian millefiore and the layered blue red and white chevron made in both Venice and Amsterdam since the 16th c.

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