Bead Library: Czech Glass Beads

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Making Czech Glass Beads - Your Resource for Czech Glass Beads

Making Czech Glass Beads

By Beverly Fernandes

In the 1550's a major glass industry was founded in the cities of Jablonec, Stanovsko, and Bedrichov (modern Reichenberg) in Bohemia (in the current Czech Republic). Glassmakers there were mostly cottage crafters making products for larger centralized factories.

The area had three main attractions. First of all, nearby mountains contained quartz deposits that were easily mined. Second, Bohemia had an abundance of cheap skilled labor. Third, and most important, was the expansive Bohemian forests, an abundant source for wood to heat the large furnaces required to melt glass. Potash was a byproduct of burning wood in the furnaces. Importing potash, an important ingredient in glass making, would have been very expensive. It takes between 15,000 and 40,000 pounds of wood to create the potash to make 50 pounds of Czech glass. The wood burned in the furnaces created the ash that was later collected to make all the potash that was needed. The Bohemian factories turned out mainly glassware and cut glass stones. Beads were a secondary product.

From earliest times there have been many ways of forming glass beads. The earliest was to wind molten glass around a form and allow it to set and cool, creating round beads. The glass can also be blown into a form or mold, creating hollow shapes in the beads which are lighter than wound ones. A third method is to create blown glass beads without a mold. Beads made in this way are the lightest and most delicate. All these methods have been known for thousands of years, but it was not until 1860 that the first pressed glass molds were developed in Bohemia, producing a product that is more durable and robust than earlier methods.

'Pressing' was a completely new process. A dollop of glass was taken up and placed in a pair of mold tongs, after it was formed it would be pierced by an iron rod. The bead was then drawn off the rod and allowed to cool slowly. This method left a wide seam around the circumference of the bead, which would be ground away after the bead cooled.

Later this process became automated by hydraulic bead presses which could turn out thousands of identical beads quickly. The presses used a combination of high pressure and heat caused by that pressure to convert powdered glass into glass beads. After the beads were formed they were pierced using high speed drills to create uniform holes. Pressed glass beads are more dense than other types and the fact that the beads are pierced after they are formed means that offset or multiple holes are possible. The creative possibilities are endless.

Bibliography

Beads of the World by Peter Francis Jr.
Glass 5,000 Years edited by Hugh Tait
The Czech Bead Story by Peter Francis Jr.
The History of Beads from 30,000 B.C. to the Present by Lois Sherr Dubin

About the Author

Beverly Fernandes has been beading since 1969. Since moving to Eugene in 1998 Bev has worked primarily with beads, her first loves have always been her husband John and beadwork. Bev works primarily with Japanese Cylinder Beads known as Delicas. They come in over 600 colors and textures, so Bev can practically paint with beads. Most pieces are worked in peyote or gourd stitch, a form of bead weaving that has been found in Egyptian tombs and has since been practiced by nearly every culture that has worked with beads. Beverly has a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology. She studies archaeology and bead history.

All article text and photos Harlequin Beads & Jewelry unless otherwise noted.
Text and photos may not be used without permession from Harlequin Beads & Jewelry.

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In Harlequin's bead library you will find information on the history of beads, how beads are made and how beads have been used throughout the world.

Many articles include a bibliography to provide you with additional resources. Many of the beading books referenced are available at your local library.

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Harlequin Beads and Jewelry specializes in Swarovski crystal, pendants and pearls, Czech glass and seed, Japanese seed and gemstone beads, plus a full selection of stringing supplies and jewelry findings.