Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Real Mardi Gras Beads!

Written by Heather DeSimone

Vintage Mardi Gras Glass Beads
The REAL Mardi Gras Beads!
OK, so years and years have gone by since I first spied boxes and boxes of these dirty old beads in one of the job lot warehouses we used to visit. I had forgotten about them until randomly the topic of Mardi Gras beads came up in a meeting the other day. Our UPS man often suggests in a helpful tone to our mail order manager “Hey? Why don’t you try to get a contract on Mardi Gras beads? You’d make a million?” What he doesn’t realize is that China has that contract these days, (big surprise). But it used to be Europe where organizers looked for beads to throw, drape and give away in the early days of the celebration. And the beads were not the press-molded plastic on a string. They were glass! Can you imagine, watching the parade and eagerly waiting for some strands of lovelies to be thrown at you, flashing whatever you have to flash in order to get some (OK so they probably didn’t do that bVintage Mardi Gras Glass Beadsack in the 1930’s), only to be hit in the face with strands of heavy GLASS beads!?

Mardi Gras Evolution
Mardi Gras, or what it has come to stand for today, was originally a celebration of the flesh, leading up until the time of lent or sacrifice for Catholics. The practices and traditions of Mardi Gras or Carnival have evolved over the years and with the varying inhabitants of Louisiana. But it was in 1920 that “Rex” King of the Carnival or leader of the parades by day, began the ritual of bestowing beads upon revelers. In that era, Europe was where you found beads, specifically “Bohemia” or the area known as Austria, portions of Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

Vintage Mardi Gras!
So back to the dirty old crates of glass beads: These are uncirculated, old Mardi Gras beads, made in the 1930’s in Czechoslovakia. Research in both books and on the internet, as well as years of dealing in and collecting vintage beads, points to the fact that these are very likely the beaded strands that were commissioned for, made for and intended for Mardi Gras. (However, they of course never made it to Louisiana, which is the only reason why they’re available, in tact with original tags, and in most cases, on original strings today.) I knew all this at the time, but for some reason was not intrigued by them. For one reason, they are opaque glass (see Opaque Bead Blog), and we all know how much I yearned for opaque glass beads in past years. For another reason, the strings were all rotted and the beads were a mixed and dirty mess. When we first spied them, yours truly was the only bead-cleaner, bead-strander, bead-tagger, bead-everything-er. I didn’t have the time or the patience. But when our recent Mardi Gras bead conversation took place the other day, I found myself wondering… could they still be there? I made a phone call. Success!!! And here Vintage Mardi Gras Glass Beadsthey are. And the strings aren’t even as bad as I thought… and most strands still have their original tags. I love it when that happens, and it’s rare. It feels like an archeological dig when we unearth beads that are actually ‘marked’ and back up our ‘vintage’ claims.

All beads have a history and a story to tell. Even uncirculated old beads that have spent their many years in dirty crates in a basement and never actually made it to the parade, stand for an era, an event or a moment in time. And for $8.00, you too could own a 52 inch strand of Mardi Gras history.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 10 November 2007 )

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