Russian Blue Chief Trade Beads

Graduated Strand of Russian Blue Trade Beads

Various sizes of Russian Blue Glass Trade Beads

I’ve always found it helpful to go to the language of the people that I’m studying for clues if I’m looking for something obscure.  A tidbit of information that I found very interesting is about Chinook Jargon, which was the language of trade for many, many centuries before the white man arrived on the North Coast. “By at least the 1800’s, the total number of words in Chinook Jargon falls a little short of five hundred words and the word for large blue glass bead, Ka-mo’-suk, is numbered among them.  ~Ka-mo’-suk~, n. Chinook, idem. Beads. Tyee kamosuk (chief beads) is the name for the large blue glass beads (trade beads).” (6) George Gibbs says that this word is a Nootka word and we know that the Nootka, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, were among the very first contacted by Europeans.

There were also Spanish visitors to Nootka Cove, Perez in 1774, who had come from Madrid, Spain, Mexico City, and Acapulco then north to test the Russian presence, trading all the way. The French, La Perouse and de Langle followed Cook’s route in 1786. And more Englishmen, Capt. George Vancouver, who was originally with Capt. Cook, returned in 1792 searching for the Northwest Passage, trading with the natives all the way. Also an Italian, Alejandro Malaspina, sailing for the Spanish was a contemporary of George Vancouver was sailing North coast in 1791-92. There were the Boston men, William Sturgis for one in 1798. “The crew might stay one season, which means a voyage of 22 to 24 months; but they usually stayed two summer seasons, making a three year voyage. Essentially they went to procure sea otter skins which were obtained from the natives by barter, carried to Canton, and there exchanged for the productions of the Celestial Empire, to be brought home or taken to Europe, thus completing what may be called a Trading Voyage.” (7)

Russian Blue Chief Trade Beads in Excellent condition circa mid 1800s

Russian Blue Chief Trade Beads

If you’re interested in a good read, check out Hilary Stewart’s, “The Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, captive of Maquinna.”  Hilary writes a very accurate and interesting account of a young man in 1802 sailing on the Boston from England for the Pacific coast of North America.  “At Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, the ship stopped to trade for furs with the native people.  Days later, the powerful chief Maquinna and his warriors massacred the ship’s entire crew – except for Jewitt and John Thompson.”  In John Jewitt’s own words is recorded; “Captain John Salter took on board the ship BOSTON, John Jewitt as blacksmith.  The ship having undergone a thorough repair and been well coppered, proceeded to take on board her cargo, which consisted of English cloths, Dutch blankets, looking glasses, beads (trade beads), knives, razors which were received from Holland, some sugar and molasses and munitions, etc.” (8) “March 12, 1803, the American ship Boston, had passed the west of Vancouver Island and had set anchor into the muddy bottom of Friendly Cove, about 5 miles from Yuquot, a Nootka Village.  Like most European and American ships, the cargo was full of trade goods; Razors, looking glasses, beads, English cloth, Dutch blankets and molasses, plus an assortment of weapons.” (9)  I’m bringing the situation of John Jewitt up because of the actually recorded ships records referring to trade beads on board boat in 1802. These were various beads, but most important to the trading at that time were the faceted Blue Russian Trade Beads.

(6)  Gibbs, George, Documented; Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, or, Trade Language of Oregon, 1815-1873.
(7)   Holm, Bill, and Vaughan, Thomas, Soft Gold, the Fur Trade and Cultural Exchange on the Northwest Coast, 1982.
(8)  Stewart, Hilary, The adventures and sufferings of John R. Jewitt, 1987
(9)   Salter, Capt. John, Columbian Centinel and Massachusetts Federalist, April 25 1804.

About Janet Walker

8 Responses to “Russian Blue Chief Trade Beads”

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  1. owen says:

    I love my Blue Ruskies!

  2. Cheryl says:

    how much are these trade beads worth

  3. Janet Walker says:

    Thanks for the question, Cheryl. Well, Blue Russians are pretty rare antique glass beads and there are different factors that determine their price; size, deepness of color, condition (since they are often hundreds of years old there are nicks and cracks and age damages that have to be considered) and availability. So, Cheryl, to answer your question about how much are these beads worth…they are really priced PER BEAD. And if you have an interest in a necklace, let’s talk more about it. If you see a picture that we’ve posted on this site and like it and want a specific answer just indicate which necklace and we’ll talk further!:)

  4. janet walker says:

    Steve, Value depends on size, deepness of color, condition, even where you found them! And, as far as marketing them, any where you can! Bead shows, craft fairs, antique shops (are a good place since people that shop there often know about antique trade beads), Please email me with pictures and maybe I’m interested… [email protected]

  5. Richard says:

    I have some that I take care of. it was give to my mother. and when she passed away to the next life. the trade beads I now take care of. I never thought to search out where the ones I have come from. I have some that look like the Russian Blue Glass Trade Beads photo. but I Honor these beads as they have come a long ways. so they will not be mistreated. 🙂

  6. chris viegaard says:

    Hello Janet.
    Your wonderful site has kept me up very late on this frigid New England night. I was riveted particularly because I have always wondered about my cobalt blue trade beads. Perhaps they are “Russian Blues”.
    Shall I tell you my story?
    Back in 1980, I had just divorced. My two little boys and I moved from San Diego back to Mass. where I had lots of family.
    Loving flea markets, yard sales and general poking around, one afternoon, I visited a dusty cluttered antique shop in Plymouth, Mass. In a crowded disorganized glass display case was a small string of seven large hole cobalt blue faceted beads. I asked the shop owner if I could see them. As soon as they rested in the palm of my hand, I felt a penetrating warmth and a strong energy. I said nothing. The tag on the beads read, “NW Coast Trade Beads,
    $180.” At the time, there was no way I could buy those beads. I was driving the school bus and teaching swimming to support my kids. The shop owner watched me as I held the beads and said, “Can you feel the energy in them? They are really old..” Reluctantly, I thanked him for letting me see them and handed them back. Hard as if was to leave them there, I told myself I had to take the “museum approach”. That meant just because you loved something you might never be able to possess it; like the treasures we see in museums.
    Over the years, I enjoyed those beads in my head. I never forgot them. In time, I oneday noticed that the antique shop had moved or gone out of business.
    Then one morning about 10 years later, I woke up with an urgent vision of the beads in my head. A blizzard was raging outside. I went downstairs and looked in the town phone book for the name of the antique shop. It was not there, but there was a home phone number for a person with the same name. I called the number. A man answered. I asked him if he was in any way connected to the antique shop that used to be by the harbor. “Yes,” he said. It had been his shop. I explained that “a while ago,” I had seen a string of blue glass beads in his shop. Did he still have them? Silence. After several moments, in a puzzled voice, he said, “I’m putting together a lot of items for auction tomorrow. I just took those beads out of the safe. Do you remember how much they were?”
    “I think they were tagged $180,” I said.
    “Just a minute, I’ll go get them.” I could hear him walking out of the room. When he came back to the phone, he said, “Yes, you were right. $180. Do you still want them?” “Yes, ” I said, “I’ll be right over.”
    I dragged my 17 year old son out of bed and with him drove through the blizzard many miles into the woods to the dealer’s home. “Wait here,” I said to my son as I pulled up in front of the house. “I’ll be right back.” I went in, the seller came out with the beads and handed them to me. Yes. They were the same beads I had fallen in love with 10 years before. And yes. Now I could afford them. How did I feel? What did I think? I think the beads had called to me on that snowy morning. I think those beads had been mine since the day when I first held them many years before. They were waiting for me. I think they were on a journey, and I was meant to be the next leg of that journey. In the 25 years I have worn the beads ( I made a necklace combined with smaller African
    cobalt blue faceted beads) they have been to healings, spirit fires, soul rescues, retreats, and shaman gatherings. They have shared their energy with me, and I with them.
    My warmest greetings to you.
    Best wishes,
    Chris Viegaard
    Gloucester, Mass.
    508/284-2898
    [email protected]
    (Photos will be sent to your email address.)

    • Janet Walker says:

      Thanks for the great story Chris! I’ve had an experience where I thought I couldn’t spend the money on some Russian Blues and went home, only to be plagued by the fact that I didn’t whip out my card and do it! I got a hold of my better sense and hurried back down to the shop and !!!! someone else had beat me to them!!~ WOW, live and learn…So I don’t hesitate about beads anymore, just DO IT !! Someone else was meant to have them… …Was it you? 🙂 Best Wishes,
      Janet

  7. Brenda Wiebe says:

    Hi Janet, I have many blue beads from Nootka Sound. I am just wondering what the value is of them?

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