As promised, we're following up with more information on various types of Venetian beads (see previous blog post on Venetian beads in general). Today's focus is on millefiori, which means "thousand flowers" in Italian. This is a glassmaking technique that goes all the way back to Rome in the first century A.D. At that time, this was called a 'mosaic glass' process, created by assembling thin glass canes of various colors to form patterns that frequently resembled flowers. The bundle was heated to melting, which fused the canes that were then pulled. When cool, the bundle would be cut into cross-sections, and the beads were made individually by hand, by working cross-sections of mosaic glass cane into plain molten wound-glass bead cores.
The technique itself was revived and modified in 16th century Venice and the nearby island of Murano, and at that time renamed as 'Millefiori'. This traditional design was most popular from the late 1800s to the early 1900s (see 1920s example from VintageSparkles Deco Victorian gothic jewelry on Etsy.com and shown here, and visit our Etsy shop while you're there: http://tinyurl.com/atcs2p3). Millefiori beads may be impressed with a single mosaic slice or a number of them in combination. In close-up photos, you can see cane slices embedded in the bead.
In the late 1800s, Millefiori beads made in Venice were imported by the thousands to Africa, where they were traded or sold for various things. Old Millefiori beads started to be imported to the U.S. from Africa in the late 1960s and were called 'Trade Beads' by the importers and African traders. In fact, some African traders today will show you Millefiori beads if you ask for 'Trade Beads'. Those who experienced the hippie era in the U.S. (me included!) remember these African beads as 'love beads'. (Love beads were known as one of the traditional accessories of hippies -- and the use probably evolved from the hippie fascination with non-Western cultures such as India, Native America, and Africa, which made use of similar beads. Wikipedia has a lot of great facts on love beads -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_beads for more information on this term specifically.) The appearance of many of these African Trade beads are quite different from the example shown here, so I'll try to do a follow-up on that type soon.