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Last updated: 3/27/06

What’s New:
Lobby Display:
Beads — The Universal Objects

Small, colorful, and made to be used – beads are as old as the human race. All over the world, people have used and continue to use beads for counting, for remembrance, for good luck, for ornament, for meditation, for courting, for communication, for currency. Beads survive when other artifacts and clues about our past disappear. Trade beads still fuel discovery, exploration, expansion, and exploitation. Beads can tell stories about our development, culture, beliefs, history, economy, art, relationships, and feelings.

When you hold a bead in your hand, look at it closely. Go beyond its color, shape, and size. Think about who made it and why; where it came from and how; who might want it; and how they might use it. Because the stories really aren’t about beads - they are about people. Discover some of these stories here.


Selected Bibliography:

There is so much to this subject. Not surprisingly, the URI Library has an extensive collection of books on beads, covering a wide variety of topics from decorative to commercial, from anthropology to art. Journal articles - in either electronic full text or print format will have more information. Finally, there are bead societies and bead museums with excellent web sites. This bibliography is just the start.


GT2250 .D83 1987
Dubin, Lois Sherr. The History of beads: from 30,000 B.C. to the present. New York: H.N. Adams, 1987.

  • One of the most comprehensive books on the subject. Beautiful photographs and a fold-out timeline.

GN433.5 .B43 1998
Sciama, Lidia D. and Eicher, Joanne B. Beads and beadmakers: gender, material culture, and meaning. Oxford (England), New York: Berg, 1998.

  • Fascinating accounts of the past and present work of women in beadmaking, as well as the importance and uses of beads from all over the world.

NK3650 .D7 1998
Drewal, Henry J. and Mason, J. Beads, body, and soul: art and light in the Yoruba Universe. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1998.

  • Beautifully illustrated volume traces the history of beads through 1,000 years of use by the Yoruba people.

E98 .I4 O56 1996
van Dongen, Alexander. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Rotterdam: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, 1998.

  • Essays on trade between Europe and the New World. Beads were important trade items, but did they really buy Manhattan?

E99 C815 O75 2001
Arnold, Jeanne E. (ed.) The origins of a Pacific Coast Chiefdom: the Chumash of the Channel Islands. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2001.

  • Reports of research on the Chumash people, the earliest settlers of Southern California.

TT860 .T393 1999.
Taylor, Enid. Decorative beaded purses. Lewes, East Sussex: Guild of Master Craftsmen Publications, 1999.

  • Directions and patterns for creating beaded amulet purses.

E99 .A86 S57 1995.
Simeone, William. Rifles, blankets, and beads:identity, history, and the northern Athapaskan potlatch. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

  • Examination of the culture and customs of the Northern Athapaskan people.

E99 .N3 M683 2003.
Moore, Ellen K. Navajo beadwork: architectures of light. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003.

  • Examination of modern interpretations of traditional Navajo beadwork.

Journal articles:

Search for journal articles in Reference Databases. Suggested databases:

  • Academic Search Premier
  • Art Abstracts
  • ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry and ABI/INFORM Global
  • Historical Abstracts
  • ISI Web of Science - Arts and Humanities Citation Index
  • Project Muse
  • Science Direct - Arts & Humanities

Suggested search terms: beads; beadwork; beads-prayer; beads-religious; beads-history; beads-manufacturing; beads-trade. Also check the individual database's subject guides or thesaurus for additional search terms.

Web sources:

Websites from bead museums and bead societies can also be good sources of information. No endorsement is intended or implied for any commercial components of these websites.

The Bead Site @
Now a read-only reference site but still has a wealth of information.
Center for Bead Research materials are now located at:

The Bead Museum , Glendale, AZ. @
Includes information about past and current exhibits, lecture notes.

Bead Museum, Washington, D.C. @
Information from past and current exhibits.

Compiled by:
Kate Cheromcha
Student, Graduate School of Library and Information Studies

University of Rhode Island Libraries

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