Friday, December 15, 2017

A Little History of the Czech or Bohemian Glass Beads


Beads of all types have been made for centuries mostly in what is now Western and Eastern Europe.  Specifically, the focus of this article is on Czech beads or by their other name Bohemian Glass Beads.  They got their name from Bohemia, a region in central Europe that occupied two-thirds of the lands that was a kingdom in the Holy Empire, and later the Austrian Empire.

The manufacturing of beads in Bohemia began after 400 A.D. and by 900 A.D. locally made beads were placed in tombs.  Three hundred years later glass factories were turning out a variety of glass products, mostly household wares.


By the 19th century there was a change in the political face of Europe when Bohemia and Venice added the Austrian Empire.  All three regions competed with each other prior to coming together as one and continued to compete afterwards thanks to Czech “sample men”.  They were what we call today craftsmen and salesmen. They traveled world wide asking people what beads they wanted made then would sketch the beads and write descriptions underneath those sketches before returning to Bohemia to make them a reality.  At the same time there was an industrial innovation that produced new machines that pressed molten glass into heated molds and resulted in mass production of identical beads.

Moving into modern history, Czech glass bead production is closely allied to the impact of both World Wars and later the Cold War.  The center of bead production was North Bohemia.  It has been the center of bead production since the 13th century.  The area was a rich resource of potash and Quartz needed for glass making.  The three cities that produced all the glass beads in the area were Jablonec, Stanovsko and Bedricho (the last city is now called Reichenberg) known for making rosaries.  In the second half the 16th century it became fashionable to produce costume jewelry.

A good website for more detailed information is big-bead-little-bead.blogspot.  If you click on Czech beads, you can see the individual homes where beads were made to supply large companies.


After WWI North Bohemia became part of Czechoslovakia and initially bead production was doing well, and in fact, the region became the largest bead exporter.  When the Depression and then WWII occurred bead production was greatly affected, and subsequently it was dealt an even heavier blow when the communist government decided glass making was not an approved industry.  The Czech government did not change its mind about bead production in Czechoslovakia until the 1950s.  Prior to this time many North Bohemians left the area for Germany where they resettled and restarted their businesses.

Decades later in 1989, communist control ended and Czechoslovakia split into two countries: Czech Republic and Slovakia.  (The Czech Republic is now where North Bohemia now lies.)