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.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane??? Good time to blog

Times like these, with natural disaster warnings being posted all over TV, alerts by our Mayor, who is closing our subways and bridges as I blog, it's a good time to be reflective -- and what better topic than beads. A bead is a symbol of history. It too is exposed to climate and natural forces just like we are. As well, beads have timelines -- marked by their place, exposure and importance in our history (fashion, politics or personal). Thanks to Susan's question regarding our Pink Crow Beads, http://www.yorkbeads.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=Y&Product_Code=Z6006%2FPINK&Category_Code=


our 7x7mm large hole faceted beads, http://www.yorkbeads.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=Y&Product_Code=Z3%2F7+COBALT&Category_Code=

I present you a history of these two beads, both imported by our company during my tenure, and a little snapshot about their present and a glimpse of their future in the world of Vintage beads and life in general:

I know what people label as vintage is a liberal evaluation. I have been in the bead business a good part of my life but officially started 1987. Crow beads and other Sintered beads were made by Preciosa (the crystal company). 1987 was toward the very end of the communist era and they announced that they were closing this factory, which also made tile beads and some geometric shapes (mostly seen with some brown spotted Picasso-like coatings) around 1989. These beads were mostly opaque and vibrant in hippie fashion and well as rosary and ethnic fashion jewelry. Sintered glass, I believe, are a powder mixture baked in a mold as opposed to other Czech glass which is pressed, chopped, polished, etc. Yorkbeads (Est. 1924) placed one last crow bead order based on demand at the time just before the factory closed. We were told this was our last chance, as the factory was closing and all machinery was being put in storage. This was told to us by JABLONEX. Jablonex was simply a government agency that marketed Czech Glass beads, including Preciosa's, to the world. Once communism ended the individual factories were able to take control of their own marketing. Preciosa is an example of marketing success. The crow bead was a secondary item to us at the time. Elliot Greene was the biggest crow bead importer at the time. Pink was a little more expensive (these were so cheap back then, maybe $4-$5 a mille or kilo so other colors were maybe $1.00 less) and had that aura of "hard to get" so, of all colors YORK ordered, for some reason pink remained in stock. (I guess 'cause we thought it more valuable and ordered more, even if used mostly for native American fashion and not general fashion.) The color is very vintage, because it contains gold dust. I think it is impossible to get that color any more. In seed beads they try to do a color-fast dyed alternative now. Attempts of seed beads in that color are purple-casted now. (We have a decent amount of 10/0 and 11/0 ones from the JABLONEX era, a little darker than crow but not bad.) Anyway, the Crow bead production ceased. Roller beads, India and China alternatives hit the market and over time the Czech versions have diminished in bulk. Today, 9mm Pony beads are a major component of fashion jewelry dedicated to youth, and the Czech crow bead has slowly disappeared while alternatives (Fimo, wood and more) are in abundant access to overseas jewelry manufacturers. I have no doubt this a vintage bead. I see many beads on E bay termed "vintage". My interpretation of vintage is determined by 3 questions. First, can that bead or color be made today? Second, can the quality be duplicated? And third, is the factory that made them still in business? We can examine the usage of vintage more thoroughly with the second bead Susan mentioned in her email.

7x7mm (4mm hole) cobalt fire polish ovals were termed "Ornelka" in the mid-nineties by JABLONEX, named after the factory Ornela. They were replicas of so-called "Russian" beads, which were popular Czech trade beads traded to Russia for fur coats as the story goes. (You may want to check out Picard materials for a more complete history.) These beads were made and cut by Ornela, JABLONEX's seed bead factory. Again, JABLONEX was just a marketing brand, Ornela the seed bead factory. The beads were chopped from glass rods like seed beads but were faceted by pins like fire polish. JABLONEX closed 2 years ago. According to my criteria this means the beads are vintage. But, maybe not?? The beads were made in the JABLONEX era. The term "Ornelka" came from Ornela, which is still open today, and whose sister factory Zasada makes all the glass rods in the region. Preciosa did not buy JABLONEX, but they sort-of bailed them out of bank debt. In return Preciosa got control of the Ornela and Zasada factories and formed a company Preciosa-Ornela. I buy all my seed bead products from Preciosa Ornela. Technically, they can make these 7x7mm "Ornelka" beads. But, at least in North America, between pricing and the downturn of these beads in fashion, "Ornelka" beads are disappearing. We do not have much left. So, if these are not vintage like the crow beads you can definitely make a case for them, and real soon, in my opinion.

The hurricane will hit in about twelve hours and let's hope it will pass with no major damage. It is a great time to reflect and to catch up on reading, or maybe like with this blog, your past. Our pasts are as varied as our beads, and what is vintage and dear to some may not be to others. Facts may get distorted but beauty does not!!

I'd love to hear your thoughts about what "vintage" means to you. Be safe.