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Venetian Glass Beads and the Slave Trade from Liverpool, 1750-1800


Saul Guerrero

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The competition within the slave trade during the 18th century forced slave traders to search for an assortment of barter cargo that would attract the preferential attention of the African suppliers of slaves. An enterprising group of Liverpool slave traders that formed William Davenport & Co. rose to the occasion and in three years became the supplier of half of all the glass beads re-exported to Africa from England. An analysis of barter values in Bonny, West Africa, reveals that glass beads were one of the main categories of trade goods of great interest to the African slave traders. The trade beads were primarily the products of Venice where the glass bead sector grew from at least 7% to over 70% in value of total Venetian glass exports from the late 16th to the late 18th century. While the sale of glassware in Venice slumped due to competition from other European producers, the bead industry prospered and manufactured tens of millions of units of conterie and perle a lume beads per year during the second half of the 18th century.

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The Society of Bead Researchers is a non-profit scientific-educational corporation founded in 1981 to foster historical, archaeological, and material cultural research on beads and beadwork of all materials and periods, and to expedite the dissemination of the resultant knowledge. Membership is open to all persons involved in the study of beads, as well as those interested in keeping abreast of current trends in bead research.

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