A Brief History of Pressed Glass Beads

Pressed glass beads were first developed in Bohemia in the 1780s. It is said that the discovery of this technique was a “happy accident” by a bead maker when he: “dropped the metal bar or wire he wound beads with into the glass mass and when he fished it out with tongs, he noticed that the glass that adhered to them took on its shape.” (Die Perle, 1927, vol. 4, no. 7, p. 52, translated and compiled by Anita von Kahler Gumpert and Karlis Karklins). Artisans first used iron tongs for the molds and then moved on to machines by the early nineteenth century.

New Decorative Elements

The discovery of the pressed glass technique for beads led to fanciful shapes and designs although round ones are also made in this way. Besides flowers, animals became popular, as well as many geometric shapes. By the 1840s bead makers were adding decorative color accents to some of these beads to highlight the impressions made by the molds. 

Regional Centers

The current city of Jablonec nad Nisou (Czech Republic) has gone through a variety of name changes but one thing that remains unchanged is its reputation as a regional center for glass beads since the 14th century. Ethnic Germans arrived in the region in the 16th century, and many participated in bead making. So many ethnic Germans settled in the area that the city name reflected the changing population and became known by the German word Gablonz. After World War II, ethnic Germans had to leave Czechoslovakia, and the beadmakers among them settled in Bavaria in a town they called Neu Gablonx, where they continued to produce beads.

Distribution

As a cottage industry, most of these beads are produced in small batches with many workshops attached to homes. Many bead distributors still rely on personal relationships with individual workshops to bring new beads to the market. 

This photo shows iconic elephant beads, probably produced in the 1920s-1930s. 

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