Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Glorious, Glorious
Green Glass Beads!

From the start of my beady career, I've always loved green glass beads. This is a necklace I made in 1990, featuring green and copper colored beads.

Beaded necklace by Robin Atkins, bead artist
And here is a detail of the hand I fabricated with copper and sterling, stamping my motto of the day, "Bead Lust - Critical Mass" on the fingers and thumb. Ever since then, beadlust is my constant companion... hence the name of this blog.

detail, beaded necklace with fabricated metal hand by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Have you ever noticed in the bead shops that there are more color variations among the green glass beads than any other color? Once this was even more pronounced than it is today.

A Sad Story about Green Glass

In the 1990's, when I used to travel to the Czech Republic to buy beads, I met a man whose family had been in the glass making business for several generations. During the 1940's his family's busniness was closed by the government because they weren't "politically correct" (ie. Communist-friendly).

He told me that prior to WWII, there were several small family businesses making glass in Bohemia (in what is now southwestern Czech Republic, an area renouned for production of glasswear). These small businesses were highly competitive, each striving to develop more interesting color variations. The chemicals and colorants used in making green glass were available and comparatively inexpensive. By slightly altering the formula, say by adding a small amount of piss from the family donkey, one could produce a new variation of green. But if the donkey died or the formula was lost, that specific color could no longer be produced.

He showed me a sample book of glass that was the pride and joy of his family. His parents had managed to hide it when their business was taken over. I was totally blown away by pages and pages and pages of glass samples (in the form of pressed glass buttons), each page with 54 samples, every one a slightly different color. And, oh my goodness, the greens! Pages of them - maybe 120 hues in all! Below is a picture, taken with my film camera with flash, of one of the pages in his sample book; this one shows only the transparent colors of green glass available at the time.

page from Czech glass sample book from 1938, photograph by Robin Atkins
But when all the small businesses were consolodated into a single factory, there was no more competition and no need to produce so many different colors. Also, most of the color formulas were destroyed or kept secret by the originators. As you can see below, the modern sample card from the single remaining glass factory shows only 10 variations of transparent green.

page from Czech glass sample book from post WWII era, photograph by Robin Atkins
In the pictures below, you can get an idea of the range of green seed beads available between the late 1800's and WWII.

a vast selection of green seed beads were available prior to WWII
a vast selection of green seed beads were available prior to WWII
Modern Green Glass Beads

For a while after WWII, the production of colored glass for making household glassware and beads was dismal indeed. There was one glass-making factory in Germany and one in the Czech Republic. Demand was relatively low at the time, and neither factory attempted to develop their range of colors.

The sample cards for the seed bead manufacturing plant in the Czech Republic were changed to show only a basic range of colors. Gone was the extensive range of colors that we notice when we look closely at a Victorian beaded bag such as the one below (or see this book).
Example showing many seed bead colors used in vintage beaded purses
But then the Japanese started producing seed beads. As the demand from the American bead renaissance (late 1980's) picked up, the Japanese began developing more colors and more finishes, with more variations on the market all the time. The Czech pressed glass bead and seed bead manufacturers were aware of this, and soon began to request more colors from the European glass makers in order to be competitive with the Japanese.

We're still not close to the variety of glass colors available before WWII, but at least today German and Czech glass manufacturers are trying to replicate some of the colors of the past. Also some stashes of old glass, hidden away when family business were shut down, have been found and used, especially to make pressed glass beads (shapes such as leaves, flowers, lentils, etc.) with new molds replicating old bead molds.

The sory of producing glass rods used for lampworking (winding glass beads on a mandrel in the flame of a torch) is similar. When making lampworked beads first began in the USA (around 1985), the only available glass was made by Moretti in Italy. Again, the Japanese developed a competitive line (Satake), and finally small European (for example, Lauscha in Germany) and American businesses began to produce glass rods for lampworking. If you'd like to know more about lampworking, here is an article about the history of this art.

Lichen beads by lampwork artist Terri Budrow-Nelson
My Personal Lust for Green Glass Beads

Before green glass beads, I had a marginal appreciation for green, definitley NOT as a color to wear, but a color of spring and lushness of nature. But the day I saw and fingered all the lovely sample buttons of green glass mentioned above, the color green and I found a new relationship! I gravitated toward green beads in the shops, checking to see if I could identify old hues among the vintage beads, looking for new variations in the Japanese seed beads, buying green lampwork beads. I still don't wear much green, but my green bead stash exceeds even the limits of a beadlust gal.

Now I notice green everywhere I go - the spines of books in the library, bolts of fabric and skeins of yarn, candles and marbles, cat collars, rubber stamp inks, roofing materials and... well, you get the idea. In the spring, I admire every variation of green moss on our property, as you can see in my improvisational bead embroidery piece entitled "Moss and Wildflowers".
Recently I picked up a small branch with various types of lichen growing on it (posted here), and admired the subtle variations in color, from pale grey-green to vibrant lime green. Apparently, I'm not alone. One of my favorite lampwork beadmakers, Terri Budrow-Nelson, saw my lichen pictures and used them as inspiration for this set of beads recently listed in one of her eBay auctions.

Lichen beads by lampwork artist Terri Budrow-Nelson
Overheard On A Saltmarsh ~ a poem on the subject of green glass beads, written in 1913 by Harold Monro (1879-1932).

Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?

Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?

Give them me.


Then I will howl all night in the reeds
Lie in the mud and howl for them.

Goblin, why do you love them so?

They are better than stars on water
Better than voices of winds that sing
Better than any man's fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.

Hush, I stole them out of the moon.

Give me your beads; I desire them.


I will howl in a deep lagoon for your green glass beads,
I love them so. Give them me. Give them me.


Overheard on the Saltmarsh in Beads

And here you have Monro's poem again, this time represented in beads. This fascinating necklace is a collaboration piece between jeweler/bead artist Carol Berry and lampworker Brian Kerkvliet. Isn't this a necklace to seriously lie in the mud and howl over?

Overheard on a Saltmarsh, necklace by Carol Berry and Brian Kerkvliet
Overheard on a Saltmarsh, necklace by Carol Berry and Brian Kerkvliet, detail
Overheard on a Saltmarsh, necklace by Carol Berry and Brian Kerkvliet, detail
Please let me know...
I'm concerned about the length of this post. It's taken me hours and hours to prepare. Please give me your honest opinion... Is it too long? Should I have done one section of it per day over a period of time, or do you prefer to view it all at once, as in this post?


  1. Anonymous6:25 PM

    Length of post was perfect. Having pictures to illustrate the greens broke it up and made it very readable...thanks for the history lesson!

  2. I don't could a post about beads ever be too long????

    Incidentally, the hand you made is just fabulous...seeing it has turned me green with serious envy...;)

  3. Wait a wrote something?? I wuz too busy looking at all the pretty green beads to notice....LOL! *just kidding*

    I cannot get over how many different greens there ARE! Since my eyes are a hazel green, green is my favourite colour=:)

  4. Anonymous7:58 PM

    This was a very interesting and informative piece Robin. Writing it all at once gave it continuity and maintained interest at least for me. Thanks for sharing and for the lovely photos too.

  5. Anonymous8:48 PM

    Love your post, and I must agree with "beadbabe49" how could it be too long? The history of beads, color, glass and with wonderful pictures too....... what more could we ask for??? Thanks for taking the time to share this post with all of us.

    My daughter purchased two strings of square mint glass beads for me for Christmas, she loved them and knew I would too.

  6. Anonymous10:03 PM

    Definitely not too long - especially because it is about my favourite colour! Beads and green = bliss. Green beads = beyond bliss!! LOL

  7. Fascinating! I didn't know anything about the bead industry and I found this very informative and definitely not too long. All the beautiful photos and links were there to break it up. I love your hand necklace, and that last one is definitely a necklace to seriously lie in the mud and howl over!!

  8. Anonymous10:34 PM

    This is a post to lie in the mud and howl over! Loved it! And green glass is also my passion, as my glass rod racks will atest. That button sample card is enough to make me keep a donkey and install a glass furnace. (Actually, I already dream of having a furnace, I didn't know donkey urine would be part of the deal!) Keep these posts coming, please, Robin. Very worthy use of my reading time, and I fully appreciate you using your time to write it! Terri Budrow-Nelson

  9. Anonymous12:46 AM

    I am not a beader but my favourite colour is green and I love these glass beads!

  10. Anonymous5:30 AM

    Green has been riding high and having a fashion heyday for the past few years and it's about time. I'm a green person - even though people Eeeuuuww'ed over green about 25 years ago and my boss chided me whenever I ordered green yarn for the shop I managed back then. "Nobody buys green!" Ha! When I try to curb my appetite for green and go with another color, I'm never happy.
    So I loved the loooong post and appreciate your work. I will hate it when as "they" say, pink will become the new green, fashionista speaking.

  11. Verde que te quiero verde....
    It sound better in Spanish than in English--Green how I love you green--from the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

  12. The picutres and history had me sitting on the edge of my seat with my coffee this morning. When I got to the end I wanted more to read. You are a wise and wonderful artist. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It has been raining in New Orleans for the last two days. Green is everywhere. I am going to take a good look at the colors when I go out this morning.

  13. Robin

    You could write all day about beads and I would sit here reading. It was very interesting reading about the green beads
    I have not been able to do much in the way of bead embordery due to arthritis in my right hand so I love looking at yours. We had our neighbors top half of her cedar tree resting against our old man cedar tree for a few weeks now since the big wind storm we had.

    Hugs, Helaine

  14. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Not too every word!

  15. Anonymous8:24 AM

    At first I was going to say the post overwhelmed me and was too long for me. Then I took a deep breath, let it out, and decided to allow myself the luxury of taking in the entire post. Drop everything else pulling at me and just sit and enjoy the greens, my faves, too. Enjoy the fruits of your travels and inquiry into the history of the ubiquitous seed bead. Remember having fondled and relished Carol and Brian's amazing necklace during Carol's classes at The Fine Line in Illinois.

    And most of all, I'm completely undone by your pictures of your green seed bead stash. I see something here with color and texture...AND I WANT THEM!! OWOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH!!!! GIVE THEM ME!
    And thanks Robin, for all the time you put into the post, it's so lush. I'll have to come back again and again!

  16. My goodness Robin!! That was a lesson in glass only rivaled by your lecture that you gave to the Great Lakes Beadworkers Guild several years ago. I read every word and loved it.....Great job...

  17. post from you about beads can be tooooo long, especially with such excellent photographs for illustration. It was fascinating to read that bit of history on my very favorite color, GREEN! Thank you for all the hours you spent writing this entry. I loved it!! ...but now I have this terrible craving to go buy more, more, more green beads....

  18. To All ~ What a glorious morning... to turn on the computer and find all of this good juju and support. I really was afraid you'd be saying (in a nice way, of course) that shorter blogs are appreciated. Although I won't take your positive comments as license to make every blog a "book length" essay, it's good to know I can get away with it now and then. Thank you!

  19. PS...

    To Kelly, Leonie, Sueun, Kiwi-jo, Terri, Carol and Vicki ~ Welcome to those of you who don't have blogs but still took the time to add comments. I appreciate that very much! Blessings...

  20. well, I'm going to step out of line and say that I wish it had been broken up. That's because I want to make comments on specific parts, but when you get onto a different topic (ie, your necklace to green beads) I can't quite figure out how to comment appropriately. Also, if you put your posts into categories, well, I'm not sure how you'd do it. Categories are great for a new visitor who is searching your archives. That said, I absolutely love that green necklace with the hand. Fantastic! The bead history is also fascinating.

  21. I think the size of a post is so personal that I'll read most anything no matter the size if the topic is of interest to me. I loved this one. You had so many favorites of mine, green beads, the Czech glass bead mini history, some of your silver and copper work which is fabulous, and the poem in beads. I remember the history and the poem from classes from you and I love them. Good stuff, Robin.

  22. Length matters not -- not when it is about a subject we love. So all the time you put into this post was well worth it -- it was appreciated by all.

    One very good point though, I believe, was:

    MimiK said...

    "...... because I want to make comments on specific parts, but when you get onto a different topic (ie, your necklace to green beads) I can't quite figure out how to comment appropriately....."

    That would be the only negative I can think of.
    Really, really, appreciate all you do -- thank you!

  23. Don't even attempt to worry about that! It was too informative, interesting and delightful for you to even mention the length. Your necklaces are to die for!

  24. I too am covered with mud and have been howling. Such beautiful pictures and the interesting story that went along with it made the post NOT too long!!! Green has never been my fav color but I now have a new respect for it. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Well, the post is long, but it was so interesting to read that I noticed it's length only when I reached it's end and saw your question =)
    I think it's great you gave all information in one post. I esp. liked "A Sad Story about Green Glass" part.

  26. Anonymous10:37 AM

    This is my first time reading your blog. All I can say is "WOW, you are very passionate about your work and beads. I had no idea the history to beads and glassmaking. It was a good read. Love all of the colors of green. That you for the history lesson. I will ook forward to reading your blog in the future.

  27. Beautiful, Robin. Green has always been my favorite color and you are my favorite shade..........doug

    This note on your blog's length.

    If y'all caint say it in two sennances, i caint unnerstan it.
    ....................George B.

  28. Robin.....I am being honest because you asked! It is too long for me. Being a visual learner and a quick blogger....I like bits and pieces at a time. Keep the viewer guessing and coming back for the next installment:) The necklaces, your included, are miraculous!!!!!!!! What can I say:):):) Yes, I would lie in the mud and holler for either of them.....ha...ha...

  29. Anonymous12:39 PM

    Robin's blog is best of all
    winter, summer, spring and fall.
    That's why we cannot pass it by
    without a happy, friendly "Hi!".
    Beady greetings, do keep fine
    till we meet again online.


  30. I agree with Beadbabe and others who said that a post about beads can NEVER be too long! The more relevant question might be whether YOU thought it was too long, Robin, because you took so much time to compose it. But since it's a topic - and a color - that you love, I'd guess that the answer would be no - and thank you for sharing those great photos, too. Time for me to go lie in the mud and howl!

  31. I was directed to this entry by someone on a bead message board. It was very informative, and I appreciate it. If it had been in several pieces I doubt I would have read all of it, so I would say that it's length is okay. And I've always loved that poem, even before I beaded.

  32. I love this post and came here by serendipitous blog browsing. The poem means a lot to me as my Mum used to say to me it all the time when I was a little girl. I also have red hair so green glass beads still hold an attraction for me :) The necklace inspired by the poem is a real work of art.

  33. It wasn't too long
    ... doing it in bits would have been silly ;-)
    hmmmm - the comments are now about twice as long as the post is!
    I really enjoyed reading about the history of green glass beads ... green has been my favourite colour ever since I can remember ... although now I like a lot of other colours too ... (I love playing with colours)
    I also love beads
    ... and threads and yarns and fabric and fibres and ...
    ... I also write rather long blog posts (and also take hours to do it) - but I don't think mine are anywhere near as interesting as this one.
    (btw - I followed the link here from too)

  34. Don't you dare worry about the length of this post. It was fabulous and insightful and gloriously green. I devoured every word and thought about my own love of color and beads and the history it all involves. Brava!

    As to color, once I finally started organzing my beads by color I realized I seemed to lean toward blues. Second would be greens but blues of every hue fill my boxes.

    Thanks for giving me another reason to relook at my beads.

  35. Are you kidding? When there's a subject as fascinating as beautiful green glass beads, you say what needs to be conveyed and you let us dance with you, loving the beauty, too. I loved the poem--it was magical, and what you transformed it into was one of the most magical pieces of wearable art I've ever seen.

  36. Robin, I found this post fasinating.

    Thanks for all the work you put into it. I was excited to go to the links you included, espescially the lampworking sites. I actually bought a focal bead from one of them, thank you very much.

    I am scheduled to take a lampworking class Feb. 8th, & really looking forward to it. I want to include my own lampworked beads on my purses.

    Thanks again!

  37. Anonymous11:14 AM

    Initiated by your fantastic, entertaining, and encyclopaedic blog post, I have been thinking about beads, glass and the colour green on and off during the last days. So here is another comment following my first:

    Incidentally, my career as a bead lover started off with a handful of green glass seedbeads. When I was about eight years old (that would be about 57 years ago), my then best friend and I had a great afternoon at her home stripping the fringe of an old lamp of its little green glass beads. (We had permission to do this.) We devided that treasure sisterly, and I still have some of those beads in my stash.

    I like green without it being my absolute favourite colour. It is great for combination with other colours, and here I especially love green/blue arrangements together with some lively spots of different other colours.

    Do you remember that there was a time some decades ago when it was an absolute impossibility to match greens and blues in clothes?

    I think this blog post is not only your longest so far, but also the one that got the most comments, all of them deservedly celebrating the post. Are you working on something green right now?


  38. Thank you Robin for sharing the fascinating info about green glass beads. Your blog is always a pleasure to read and the photos are icing on the cake.

    And never forget that it's YOUR blog and you can be as lengthy as you please ...hope all is well...Ronda ;-)

  39. Anonymous4:03 PM

    The post was perfect! Great history lesson and the poem just about says it all!

  40. To All ~ More thanks to everyone for the feedback, especially to those non-mainstreamers who dared to have a different opinion. I am pleased that many of you liked the photos, as they took the most time. Now I'm a little stuck about what to post next... come on inspiration!

    To April ~ Good to hear from you... been missing you.

  41. Wow! Amazing necklaces! I adore green beads and I love that poem too. Brilliant stuff. Very inspiring.

  42. For an educational treat like this, I like the long form with lots of photos, and I appreciate the time it took you to prepare. Your blog is a delight to the mind and the eyes!

    My late husband was Bohemian so this really touched me.


  43. Hi, Robin! Wow, I have a lot to learn about beads (other than that yours are gorgeous)! I wanted to thank you for your nice comment on my blog, and also tell you that I gave the ferry book to my friend for her sister and she LOVED it! It was great meeting you last week and seeing your amazing work in person. It is amazing with a capital A.

  44. Anonymous4:47 PM

    As a lover of all things green, especially beads, thank you for this post and all the photos. I'm drooling over the 2 pics of the older seed beads and I love the 2 necklaces too. I think I need to fondle my green beads tomorrow ;-) Oh it's not too long at all. I like having all the information in one go with the photos among it.

  45. I was so pleased to have stumbled upon your outstanding post -both visually and informatively pleasing. The green beads are to die for!

    The picture of a vast selection of green seed beads and beaded purse reminded me of my nonya heritage - I originally from Malaysia now living in Canada. Both my mother and late grandmother were expert nonya beaders. My mother is still beading shoes, purses and pictures even in her seventies. I have recently posted Mum's nonya beaded shoes on my blog to explain all about this unique fusion culture and to show off her work -

  46. Anonymous10:01 PM

    Harold Monro was born in 1879 so did not write "Overheard on a Saltmarsh" in 1850! It was published in 1913.

  47. To Anon ~ Thanks for catching my mistake. The post is now correct.

  48. I enjoyed this post, I had heard of 'Bohemia' glass but didn't know anything about it. The green beads are lovely. My personal obsession is amber. I love the colours, it feels warm and not hard at all and I think maybe also because it's because it is so old and it is organic. I only have one little piece, because I live in constant hope of finding a lump of 'raw' amber on the beach!

  49. Anonymous2:37 AM

    Interesting post.....Love to shop at Bead Room for best designed glass beads.....!

  50. Anonymous5:43 PM

    I really appreciate your taking your precious time to educate us about these things -- about your travels and to learn how much the developments of colors meant to a family -- much like an artistic family in the Northern Rennaisance of art or the artistic guilds that existed -- it did mean a great deal to all artists of any kind, and i can just imagine how treasured these discoveries meant to people.

    So much of what we have is taken for granted -- all we do is go to the shelf and purchase what we wish.

    I recall doing a fine art piece -- i am not an artist at all, but an art historian, and learning of all the greens that are used in nature -- and it is true, you begin to look at things with new eyes, and are quite astounded by the number of greens you begin to see in the world around you.

    Thank you so much for sharing with us. I wonder what it took to develop blues -- this was a very costly color for an artist to use in painting --

    A sincere thanks for a well-written, thoughtful article and taking the time to educate us all and broaden our horizons!

  51. I never knew anything about the history of glass beads--thanks for posting this information! The greens are beautiful, and I'm sure they were even prettier in real life than in the picture.

    I am specifically looking for green seed beads and decided to do an image search, which is how I found your page. I gave some seed beads to a friend of mine so she could use them in her crafts, and we've been trying to find a particular shade of transparent seafoam green ones that we can't seem to find anywhere. I've had them since the late 1980s, having purchased them at an embroidery supplies shop. It seems that the range of colors has gone down even in the last 20-25 years or so. Reds and purples are especially hard to find. I joked to my friend that I may have to learn glass-making just so I can make the colors of beads I would like!

  52. I was just browsing through images of beaded necklaces, when I found the wonderful green one you created. I love your hand! The poem and the necklace that was inspired by it are both absolutley wonderful. Yes the post is long, and not seeing that anyone read it for the more serious message that you have given us in such a gentle way, I want to thank you for sharing a story that seems so appropriate for current applications. It does seem to me that progress is robbing us of the beauty and joy of creation. It certainly made me sad that such an incredible art-form was forced into silence and so much was lost to mediocrity and mass production. Thank you for your sensitivity and your voice.

  53. All those shades of green are marvelous, I wish we could get them to start making those again.

    I was thinking of the Carol Berry necklace from the first paragraph and was delighted to see it there at the bottom. Your piece and hers are both quite memorable.

  54. Fabulous post! Definitely not too long.

  55. The article retains me till the end. It actually binds you with the content. Nice effort. DigitEMB


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!