Both Owen and I at Walker Goldsmiths are nuts about Trade Beads. We’ve been collecting, learning, trading and creating jewelry with trade beads for over 40 yrs. We’ve seriously focused on faceted Cobalt Blue Russians because we love the color and the history behind them. Owen’s archealogy professor, Dr. Garland Grabert, was a serious student of the North American Fur Trade and opened his eyes to them. Jane Grabert was my dear friend and we talked and studied trade beads often.
Faceted cobalt blue beads were probably made in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) and first made their appearance in Russian America in the late 1700’s. The only mystery is how the Russians obtained them. Whatever the route, trade beads arrived in the Pacific Northwest in large quantity and were dubbed Russian Blues by the natives.
And guess what, they loved them! Beautiful cobalt blue, hand faceted, tubular glass trade beads were a desirable form of currency. Kind of like the Wampum of eastern North America . They range in size from approximately 10mm down to 5mm in length and some are slim and some are chunky. The larger the size of the bead and the darker the blue, the greater the value. At Fur Trade Rendezvous’, Pow-Wows and family gatherings these beads were desired and traded.
When Owen and I travel we always head to the museums on the lookout for these beads and we find them in regalia, and what we like to call “Feast Wear”. Used along with the faceted Russian Blues is often Dentalium shell. Dentalium are variously sized ocean mollusks that resemble miniature elephant tusks and may grow up to several inches in length. In the early days of the northwest, native Americans traded dentalium on strings 1 fathom long. They became a highly prized mark of wealth and status, typically displayed as ornaments on clothing, headdresses, as jewelry, and as a type of currency. The Nootka of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada were the biggest dentalium fishermen and responsible for the extensive trading up and down northwest America. Check out this page for a more complete story of dentalium.
In these necklaces I’ve put Czech cobalt round glass beads to facilitate comfort and good movement of the necklace.
LN259 has some nice big Russians, 4 Dentalium Shells, a Sterling clasp and earwires and is about 20 inches long. It’s a pretty dramatic looking combination.
TBA50 also has some nice Russians and 2 Dentalium Shells with small Czech beads to reach to 18 inches, yet keep the price down and look beautiful.
TBA50 … 18 inch Blue Russian and Dentalium Necklace by Janet Walker … $250.
LN259 … 20 inch Blue Russian and Dentalium Necklace with earrings by Janet Walker @ Walkergoldsmiths.com … $ 375.