Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vintage Seed Beads ~ French & Czech

What do you think came in this vintage box???

old box, photo by Robin Atkins
Well, yes, originally it contained a neck scarf. But what do you think was in the box when I acquired it 15 years ago?

old bag which contained vintage seed beads, photo by Robin Atkins
This envelope was in the box. OK, I'm being mean... you can easily guess what was in the envelope... I was just making you wait for the picture... Here it is! And, yes, it is clickable to enlarge!

vintage seed beads, photo by Robin Atkins
Can you believe these precious little hanks of seed beads? I'm not actually certain about their origin. Most of the little hanks made in France are so labeled, which leads me to think these are Czech. These beads are very, very small ~ size 15, I think, or perhaps size 18. Each bundle has 10 hanks. According to the labels, they were originally sold for $.05 per bundle of 10 hanks. Awesome! Some of the colors are faceted (or cut), and as such would be called Charlotte cut seed beads (see below).

I don't know exactly how old these beads are, but I'd guess they were made prior to 1900, and possibly in the early to mid 1800s. Don't you just love this tangible connection to our past? I do!

Here are some other precious little hanks of beads that have fallen into my hands during my 22 years of beading. These were all made in France, and they are metal or have a fired (baked on) metal surface over glass. The ones below are not glass ~ they're made of aluminum. The sweet thing about these is that they retain their silver color forever, because aluminum doesn't tarnish.

vintage aluminum seed beads from France, photo by Robin Atkins
The hank shown below is quite heavy. I believe these are referred to as steel cut seed beads, and are made from steel and faceted.

vintage seed beads from France, photo by Robin Atkins
The hank below is also quite heavy. My guess about this one is that the beads are made from steel, faceted, and then plated or fired with gold.

vintage seed beads from France, photo by Robin Atkins
According to this article about Charlotte cut seed beads, there is only one remaining manufacturer of seed beads in Europe ~ located in the Czech Republic. Apparently the French factory closed in 2004. That's a sad thing, because it produced some very wonderful, unique colors such as mustard yellow, Cheyenne pink, pumpkin, French porcelain, Arapahoe green, Periwinkle blue, buckskin, greasy yellow, and several colors of white hearts. In 1985, when I started beading, one could still find these colors, especially at stores specializing in beads for Native Americans. Sadly, I never see them any more. Even more sadly, when I sold my bead shop, Beads Indeed, I didn't think to keep a stash of them for myself. Duh!

Important Question about Using Vintage Seed Beads

To use or not to use, that is the question.

I've hoarded these sweet and beautiful little hanks of beads for many years. For what? I don't know. Perhaps I should donate them to a museum?? Or, maybe should I use some of them for my Bead Journal Project pages?

I haven't decided yet about the bundles. But Monday I bit the bullet and took two strings of beads off the hank of aluminum seed beads to use on my July BJP page. You will see the piece and the aluminum seed beads in my next post.

In the mean time, what do you think about these treasures? Would you use them? Do you have any in your own stash?


  1. Robin don't you love those steel cuts? I have three hanks that look just like the ones in your picture only the tag has a number 8. For now I am just going to look at mine because I know when they are gone they are gone.

  2. I LOVE vintage seed beads:)I would use them. That's what they were meant for. And, I used steel cuts all the time. I used them on my blue bus around the windows... :)

  3. Anonymous5:07 AM

    At one point I would have kept them but lately I've been realizing that you can't take it with you, and those that end up going through your stash probably wont understand how precious certain things were to you, so why not use them. Use them in something that means something to you. And if you don't like it, you can always remove them & put them on something else :)

  4. I agree with cindy kuo....use them. I have been a "keeper" all my life but to what end? When I'm gone there will be no one who will have the same appreciation I have for my things. Use them and enjoy the process of doing so. Think about how they feel in your hand, how they look, their history, everything you love about them and then let them do what they were meant to do....embellish something!

  5. I'd probably do a book to keep a labelled example of each type. The rest I would use. We appreciate them and who knows what will happen to them when we're gone. Sandy

  6. Anonymous9:45 AM

    While donating them to a museum would be a lovely thing to do, I say use them in your bead journal projects. Imagine how meaningful they will be! And imagine the happy energy that will go into each project! Beautiful.

  7. I think you should use them. That is one of the magical things about beads, they are cherished more in works of art aren't they? Would a goldsmith cherish a chunk of gold or would they create something with it? Loose diamonds? Rubies? Steelcuts? We can reset those diamonds or melt down that gold but to create with it - that's what the artist does.
    cheers, Denise

  8. I've been beading for almost 20 years and collecting vintage for almost that long...I am so grateful that I bought vintage when it was still affordable (to me, anyway). I use my vintage nailheads all the time and still collect them when I can. I'd rather see you use yours than see them stuck in some dusty museum somewhere!

  9. I keep them... until I use them! I was at Puget Ssound Bead Festival two years ago, and about the only things I bought were giant bags of vintage sequins, steel cut beads and nail heads from the one vendor who had them. When I need that effect in a piece, in they go, and they make a huge difference in the overall look and feel. They really don't make 'em like they used to! I'm sure that there are plenty of these in museums, and that's wonderful, but my materials were made to be used, and that's what I want to do.

  10. You have to use them! It's what they were made for. Otherwise, it's like keeping a child's toy that could give endless pleasure pristine in a box, either to make money or for a posterity that won't understand it! How can you keep them locked away? Feel them, look at them, put them side by side, and alongside your other beads, imagine how they would look being used for what they were intended. Make something beautiful with them.

  11. By all means use them! I finally broke down and have been using antique beads lately that have been sitting in drawers for years. My June piece for the Beaded Journal Project has pearls dating from the early 1900's, documented by the known fact of who wore them at that time. As Kay Susan said, "make something beautiful with them."

    Kathy V in NM

  12. Part of the joy of having such a treasure is knowing that you have it, isn't it? I would get as much pleasure from handling the hanks as I would from using them. I'd say fondle them as much as you wish and use them when it feels appropriate to do so. Documenting them is not a bad idea either, just in case you don't use them all up. That way the next person to find them will have a better concept of what they are and the value they held for you.

  13. We could issue a challenge to the whole group to use vintage beads on at least one page! I say use them too. All of those little seed beads would look great together.

  14. Goodness, I never expected to see 100% in favor of using my vintage stash. Awesome... I love the support and permission you all are giving me. OK, then... I will. Hooooooraaayyyyy!

  15. You know how practical I am, Robin, use the beads. I believe that possessions are only as useful and good as you use them. I'm very busy tossing all kinds of things I've been saving, for what? Just to be saving them? How wasteful is that. You have them, why not use them is how I'd look at it.

  16. You go vintage, girl!!

  17. Anonymous6:01 PM

    Fabulous beads!

    I'm with all the rest, Robin. I'd use them and enjoy doing it. I've saved things for years and now that I'm living in the tropics, I sometimes pull something out only to find out that it's gone moldy or discolored or a gecko has snuck into the dresser and done a poo on something precious.

    I'm using things up now - not that I'm not buying more, though!

  18. what are beads for? who gets them when you die? will you enjoy them more in the plastic bag or on a piece made by you? don't they deserved to be looked at? I have some vintage beads--and I use them!

  19. The only vintage beads that I have are some pearls that are pre-WWII that a friend gave me, and a beaded bag which is about 2/3 destroyed. I have thought about fixing it, but it would never look the same.

    Now I know that I am going to use these beads in a vintage inspired bead journal page.

    I would have never thought of this until I read your diary page, Robin.

    Thank you!

  20. Use them! Use them! Use them! :) I envisioned myself being a cheerleader while shouting that message to you, pom-poms and all. I couldn't imagine these going to a much more suited home... they were totally meant to be in your artwork. I know I'll be tuned in to see just how you incorporate these beauties into your pages. Sitting in a box...they collect dust. On your pages, they collect dreams.

  21. Anonymous6:07 AM

    Hi Robin,

    Just wanted to let you know once again how much I enjoy your blog and the fabulous photography.
    I have purchased your finger-weaving book and it is going to be my Fall inspiration.
    Thanks for the eye candy!


  22. I agree with everyone else. Use them. If you are still somewhat hesitant keep the hank as whole as possible pulling out one string at a time so if you change your mind you can give the rest to a museum. That and the documenting others mentioned should relieve you of any guilt in using them. We only live once so live it up!

  23. If I had them, I'd probably set aside one or two ... and use the rest.

    IMO - Don't leave them for death'sjunkyard. Enjoy them!

  24. I don't have a single vintage bead. They look fabulous and I'd want to save them (cuz I have a hard time parting with great beads) but then I'd throw down the gauntlet and use em!

    I've had to challenge myself quite a few times to let go of the bead and spread the wealth! Can you tell?

  25. Anonymous6:27 PM

    Hi all,

    I started Lakota style pipe bags a few years ago, and a friend of mine let me in on a great tip for finding reasonably priced steel-cuts and vintage venetians. Look for steel on vintage purses and venetians on old necklaces found on ebay and flea markets/garage sales. I've found them so cheap that I have no problem cutting them out and using them.


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!