The Elusive Vintage Bead


In last week’s post on Vintage Beads (seen here), I promised to continue the discussion . . .

People often ask me where to find vintage beads. The best way to explain it would be to compare vintage beads to antiques.


For example, let’s say you wanted to collect antique teapots. There are only a limited number of them still around in today’s world. You can’t just go to the mall and pop into the “Antique Teapot” store and buy a couple.

Some of the antique teapots that have survived are in museums; many others are in private collections already; some are part of the inventory of antiques dealers; and the rest are in attics and basements waiting to be discovered. In order for you to get your hands on an antique teapot, somebody in the group of people I just listed has to part with one that they now own.


It is very similar with vintage beads. There is no place called “Vintage Beads Are Us” at your local shopping center. For many decades, most costume jewelry was made in the United States, but since the 1990’s almost all of it has been manufactured overseas. Sadly, the U.S. factories have had to close their doors and many of the old warehouses that contained the jewelry components (beads and findings) have by now liquidated their old stock. Private collectors own a large proportion of the vintage beads already. Bead sellers own another large share and they are always on the lookout for collectors who would be willing to part with their treasures, or to buy the stock of other bead sellers who have decided to go out of business.


Occasionally, large vintage bead collections are discovered in the attics or basements of people who worked for the old costume jewelry manufacturers. Often, it’s the family of one of those workers, who will eventually happen upon the collection and offer it to a dealer.


So where can you find vintage beads today? Actually, in more places than you might expect! There are numerous online sellers, but you can begin by looking in Grandma’s jewelry box. Those old necklaces and bracelets might have a broken clasp or a few chipped beads, but often you can salvage many of the beads to create something fabulous. (See my post on recycling vintage jewelry here!)

Next, search the yard sales, flea markets, church bazaars and second hand shops. There are still vintage treasures to be found in those places if you really look!


Finally, there are people who began as vintage bead “collectors” and went on to become sellers of some of their beads online. I know because I am one of them! 🙂

I’m continually looking for new sources of vintage beads, so if you’re cleaning out Auntie Ethel’s attic and you come across beads or old costume jewelry that you’d like to sell, please let me know!


The Allure of the Vintage Bead

When it comes to vintage beads, I’m often asked two questions:

1. Why are vintage beads so special?

2. Where do you find them?

I’ll answer the first question today, and then answer the second in a future post.

So, why are vintage beads special?

It may sound corny, but they don’t make things like they used to! This is definitely true with beads.

Sure, mass-produced contemporary beads are pretty, but they can’t compete with vintage beads in terms of color, cut, reflective flash, and the sheer artistry of the vintage designs.


There are several reasons for this, but to put it simply – the world has changed so much. It’s no longer cost-effective for beads to be produced with the painstaking care and time-consuming methods of the past. Just ask any lampwork glass artist in today’s world if it’s easy – in the current market – to be paid a truly fair price for the time and imaginative skill that she puts into her work.

As has been the case in the manufacture of many different products over the years, there often comes a time when certain processes of production become too expensive to maintain or are found to be environmentally unfriendly. Early bead makers often used finishes and coating formulas that had to be modified for these reasons. As a result, today’s crystal beads with an aurora borealis finish, for example, simply do not have the full spectrum of color and brilliance of a vintage aurora borealis crystal, and so that adds to the value and desirability of the vintage crystal.


Vintage plastics and Lucite are cherished for the same reasons – the old methods yielded beads that are often superior to the versions created today. Sometimes it’s a minor difference, but often it’s very obvious that the vintage beads were more finely crafted and are more beautiful.

If you haven’t used vintage beads in your designs before, why not consider using some in your next project?


You might just fall in love! 🙂