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"Trade Beads", the token money of European Colonialists

Trade Beads, sometimes called "slave beads" are decorative glass beads used by European colonialists between the 16th and 20th century as a token money to exchange for goods, services and slaves (hence the name).

 

One of the most commonly traded beads were the Millefiori Beads from Venice, usually known as "African trade beads". They were produced by creating flowers or stripes from glass canes, that were then cut and moulded onto a core of solid color​

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As glassmaking was not common in Africa, Africans used these glass beads as currency, wealth storage and the creation of jewels. In this case the social status could be easily determined by the quantity, quality and style of jewellery worn.

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This created a high demand for Trade Beads in Africa. The splendid Kiffa beads, from Mauritania, are known to mimic the appareance of Millefiori Beads.

(Discover our selection of African Trade Beads in the  Ghana  and  Mali sections)

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