The Seed Bead Project

Issue 24 of the Margaretologist, the journal of the Center for Bead Research is devoted to Seed Beads. It has been one of our most popular issues.
Seed Bead Gallery is available here.

Interest in beadwork has boomed over the last two decades, which is why the theme of Bead Expo '98 was Seed Beads and Beadwork. A problem I had was that, despite a plethora of new resources, I could not answer questions I had about seed beads.

  • Are there any links between modern seed beads, beadwork and ancient beads of similar size and availability?
  • How, exactly, are seed beads made today?
  • What do the names of different seed beads mean?
  • Where does the term "seed bead" come from?
  • How do the beadmakers achieve special effects on seed beads?
  • Why do some seed beads fade?
  • How are seed beads sized?
  • How are seed beads packaged?
  • What's a "bunch of beads"?

These questions were posed to me over the years. To find the answers, I had to develop resources that had been under utilized or not used at all in earlier studies. These include bead sample cards, interviewers with the manufacturers, examining well-documented beadwork collections and learning to read some German.


Aside from providing answers to the questions posed above, positive results include:

  • Demonstrating again the truth of General Augustus Henry Park-Lane Pitt-Rivers' aphorism: "Small things are more important than particular things because they are more prevalent." I found this true in the Asian Maritime Bead Trade. It is also true when studying European glass beadmaking.
  • These small beads demonstrate the complexity of beadmaking in Europe. Our old model emphasized competition. Competition was there and remains an important part of the story. However, cooperation and the exchange of ideas were also crucial to its history.
  • Last, but not least, this work is helping us identify seed beads in terms of dates and manufacturing sites. This, in turn, will develop into a useful tool for dating beadwork. It has already been handy to expose a fraud (perhaps innocently done) going on in the Bead World. It was reported in Margaretologist 11(2).


This project is available as a lecture. The first time I delivered "The Beads in Beadwork: The Seed Bead Story" was in November 1996 for the Bead Society of Greater Washington. I have since given it to the Bead Society of Greater Chicago, an abbreviated version at Bead Expo '98 and the full version at the Bead Society of Great Britain. Contact me if you would like me to lecture on this topic to your Bead Society or other organization. Read about lectures then e-mail me at the Office. Select "Lecture" for the Subject.


Issue 24 of the Margaretologist, the journal of the Center for Bead Research is devoted entirely to Seed Beads (oh, and a page on the heirloom beads of Palau, Micronesia from East Java 1100 years ago). The Seed Bead Gallery is available here.

Should I also have a book for sale? What do you think? E-mail me at the Office. Select "Seed Bead Book" for the Subject.

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