Green Heart Beads: Italian Antiques with a Story

Green Heart Beads: Italian Antiques with a Story

It’s easy to drift while collecting vintage and antique glass beads. 

Consider glass from almost every geographic area — Austrian, Czech, Italian, West German and Japanese and Indonesian among the most prominent. Consider styles of production — from lamp worked and drawn to wound, pressed and blown. Consider beads from every era since humans began working with glass — from ancient to contemporary.  
Where to focus a bead collection, even if one narrows just to glass?   
The IBISwoman bead collection at Small World Gallery features examples from many of these categories.  They inform and are included in our multi-era, multi-cultural set of jewelry designs, offered since 2002. Amid all that glint, weight and color, one bead still catches my eye and heightens creative flow even after all these years.
Please meet the green heart bead.
Looks rather humble yet its roots are rare and deep. Made by glass craftsmen in Venice, Italy, between the 17th and 19th centuries, green hearts were literally used as currency in Africa and North America. 
Like white hearts and Cornaline D’Aleppos, green hearts were made specifically for world trade. Hauled by ship and pack animal and exchanged hand-to-hand with local people for natural resources, these beads were used in much of Africa.  Because green hearts also were traded in North America for furs and other goods, some call them Hudson’s Bay trade beads. (Someday soon I’ll write what I have read about how some trade beads are believed to have gotten their names.)
The green heart gets its name from its core of dark or medium green glass. Layered over the green glass is a matte coating in brick red. The tube shape features rather large holes; its texture sometimes shows a bit of crackling. Because they are considered by collectors as two-compound beads, green hearts are relatives of the more exotic white heart bead (a white or clear glass core with red glass coating) and the glorious rice-shaped Cornaline D’Aleppo bead (pink or purple glass coated with gold oxide to produce a red exterior). 
If I want to add earthy elegance to a jewelry design, I often look to green hearts as I did again this week while working with some Venetian awale beads from the late 19th century.  It is a pleasure to report that the life of these antique Venetian trade beads continues.
Kathy Richardson

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