Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How the Czech Bead and Glass Industry was formed

Courtesy of Vladimir Sulc, Preciosa Ornela USA rep

The story goes like this: Glass manufacturing arrived to Europe from North Africa via the Mediterranena Sea in late 13th century. Glass beads (seed beads) were used in the decoration of mummies in Egyptian pyramids (you can still see them today). With the development of city-states of Italy glass manufacturing migrated to Venice, the center of commerce of that time. The island of Murano, right next to Venice, became a center of Eurpean glassmaking.

In early 18th century people from Northern Bohemia (mainly peasants who were idle during the winter months) started coming south to Venice in search of work for the winter. There they gradually learned the trade of glass making. Northern Bohemia thus got all that was needed for glassmaking: wood for heating the ovens, running water for cooling and, most importantly, the know how "borrowed" from the Venetians. By the late 18th century (the period you are talking about) both Murano and Northern Bohemia were centers of European glassmaking. While Murano concentrated more and more on art glass, Northern Bohemia became the center of industrial scale production.

Beads were used as a form of currency in trade with many indigenous peoples - mostly in Africa (chevrons from Murano became a srandard) but as well on the coast of Alaska, BC and WA. Russian fur traders were the first white people to visit this territory and they traded cobalt blue beads, which remain to be poplular in the Northwest, for furs. Although it is impossible to prove, it is almost certain that these beads came from Northern Bohemia via Russain bead traders and fur traders to Alaskan native tribes.

If you are ever in Jablonec nad Nisou, there is a real nice museum of beads and jewelry. There you would probably find beads from that period of time. The industry during those years was fragmented. It was both in German and Czech hands. Big part of it was a cottege industry - individuals making glass beads at home over the winter months. There was one German family - the Riedl family, which build over many generations several factories on an industrial scale (mainly seed beads). It is possible these the cobalt beads were made by the Riedl factory, but it is a pure speculation on my part.

If you are interested to find more about it, you would probably need to go to Jablonec, research the museum and talk to the people there. They would, I am sure, be able to give you more information.

I hope this helps.


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