Vintage Beads I Love: Mercury Glass Beads from A Grain of Sand

Apr 25, 2013

I've always had a soft spot for vintage beads, and if you look through my collection, you'll find all sorts of old glass and Lucite goodies tucked away in bags and boxes. Suzanne Branca over at A Grain of Sand contacted me recently to let me know that she has uncovered some fabulous mercury glass beads in the now-famous Bead Hoard! She's shared a little bit of information with us about these rare vintage glass beads and why they're so special.

What are mercury glass beads? Mercury glass beads were well-known for their use in Christmas garlands and glass ornaments. In the early 1800s, the beads were originally made with mercury to give them a metallic luster. By the 1900s, the mercury was replaced with a silver nitrate solution, but the name stuck.

Mercury glass beads are made by blowing a long, thin tube of glass into a mold, creating a series of hollow bulges at regular intervals. The glass tube is then coated or lined on the inside with 24k gold mixed with a solution of silver nitrate. Finally, the tube is cut between edge bulge to create individual beads. Cutting the beads apart leaves a characteristic "neck" on these vintage glass beads and results in beads that are unique in character. It also means that the edges around the hole of these beads can be sharp, so for that reason, it is recommended that you use a heavier weight of Fireline (10 lb.) when stitching or stringing these beads.

Mercury glass beads are delicate, hollow glass beads that have been made for centuries. The mercury glass beads pictured here were made in Japan around the 1950s. They are quite small, 2mm and 2.5mm, which is quite a rare find for mercury glass beads!


Suzanne has a very limited supply of these vintage glass beads available at A Grain of Sand, sold in small lots of 50 beads in both the 2mm and 2.5mm sizes.

Want to see what three different designers came up with these precious and delicate vintage glass beads? Stay tuned!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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Comments

frances22 wrote
on May 14, 2013 11:34 PM

I was just wondering, if these glass beads had mercury in them & mercury is a poison.. would you be careful not to be cut by them.  I have some very old Christmas beads, passed down from a long ways back.    Jean

AnnD wrote
on Oct 11, 2013 1:27 PM

You're probably getting more mercury from your diet (fish!) than you'd get by cutting yourself with an older mercury glass bead.  As usual, your mileage may vary -- just handle your beads with care & keep them away from small children, and you should be fine.