Found in Phoenix:
Beads Past to Present

Lynn Schoeffler 2010

Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Novices - Search-

There is no pun intended when I say that I found an absolute gem of a bead museum in Phoenix, Arizona. The historic suburb of Glendale is a lovely little enclave of antique shops, art galleries, gift boutiques and the Bead Museum. The museum houses an incredible display of ancient beads and related artifacts, a 400 square foot library with hundreds of reference books, and the museum store which contains a beautiful and carefully selected display of beads for sale from around the world.

Ancient World Beads

Glass Seed Bead Pouch 1890 - 1915

Symbolism of Beads

The Bead Museum started with the amazing collection of founder Gabrielle Liese. The current exhibit "From Caves to Castles" covers pre-history (pre hominid-caveman era) until the end of the Islamic Period (1400 AD). The amazing array of ancient beads traces history, geography, anthropology and art in a series of well thought-out and visually compelling displays. Although I didn't have an appointment, the museum staff very graciously allowed me to take photos, and I came away with a new perspective on my own collection of beads.

Carved Stone Beads

West African Ceramic Beads

Historically, beads were used not only for adornment; in many cultures beads were a main form of currency for thousands of years. Of course, in America, we all know the story of how Manhattan Island was purchased from the indigenous people for trade goods, which included trinkets and beads. What you might not know is that during the height of the slave trade, a good sized glass Chevron bead from Venice could be used to purchase several human beings from the coast of Africa, for slave labor markets in Europe and the Americas.* Indeed, trade in beads was so popular that tons of beads were used as ballast in out-going trading ships.

Venetian Chevron Bead (Wikimedia Commons)

Venetian Trade Beads

The archeological record shows that people have worn beads for at least 75,000 years. As detailed by the displays, the earliest beads were made from shells, bone, and organic materials like wood, seeds and nuts. The first artificial beads were made of faience and found as early as 4,000 BC in Egypt and the Indus Valley civilizations. At the Bead Museum, an extensive collection of stone, coral and jade beads follow ancient trade routes.

In the late 13th century, Marco Polo brought further knowledge of glass making from China to Venice, where the making and export of glass beads became fundamental to the development of the city. Over 200,000 different types of colored beads were produced; it's estimated that only about 10% of those colors survive to the modern day.

Modern Glass, Metal and Shell Beads

Beads from the Bronze Age, to the Iron Age, to the Age of the Empires are represented; there are displays of fantastic insect-wing jewelry from the 1920s, a 1980s neck-to-toe beaded gown from Hong Kong and trays of beautiful blown glass, carved stone and modern lampwork beads.

Insect Wing Jewelry

Hong Kong Beaded Gown

Bugs on a String!

Make sure you save time on your visit for the Museum Store. Store Manager Jackie Juergens presents beads of all types, focusing on the unique and unusual. The store offers a stunning collection of finished jewelry, hard to find books and videos, classes for beginning and advanced students, including a summer camp experience for kids.

Not headed to Phoenix right away? Get "The World on a String" DVD from the Museum Store. I found this to be immensely interesting and informative--it would make a great presentation for your local group and club meetings!

The Bead Museum is located at 5754 W. Glenn Dr., in Glendale, Arizona. You can visit online at:


*"The Eternal Bead" DVD Part One

Home - Articles  - Readers' Showcase  - Novices - Search-

Copyright 2002 - 2010, All Rights Reserved
Editor: Assistant Editor: Published by: Pretty Impressive Stuff