Laney, As someone who has been in the “bead business” for almost
8 years, I’ve learned that the only people who really know about
old beads are people who are passionate about and have
specifically studied old beads. Two names come to mind: Robert
Liu, co-editor of Ornament Magazine (who got his PhD in something
to do with beads/anthropology), and Peter Francis, who lives
somewhere in New Mexico, I think. Peter Francis is sort of the
recognized authority on identifying rare old beads.
You might search for a knowledgeable person in your area through
your local bead society. (Yes, there are such things, devoted to
the study and and promotion of beads and beadwork, new and old).
If you are anywhere near a large metropolitan area, there will be
a nearby bead society. Check in the yellow pages for bead stores,
and the owners of the stores should be able to provide you with
If you can wait awhile, there is a show in Santa Fe late in
March called “Bead Expo 2000”. It is also known as the "Recursos"
show, and Peter Francis is affiliated with it. There are
lectures/workshops geared toward bead research.
Also, in Glendale, Arizona there is the Bead Museum. They have a
fantastic collection of old beads from all over the world. The
founder of the museum is Gabriele Liese, but she recently turned
over the reins to a younger crew. Anyway, they should be in the
phone book, and might be able to help you with contact
If your beads are really that old, I’d seriously hesitate before
I’d incorporate them into jewelry. The wearer will never really
appreciate their worth, and they would be worth much more if kept
Hopes this helps some.