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List of Current Articles: Just click on the one you want to read
1.) Antiquing in London
2.) October 2001 trip to the Czech Republic
3.) Upper Midwest Bead Society Bead Challenge
4.) The Great Czech Two-Hole Bead Wars
5.) The Demise of the Rivoli



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2014 Video of buildings and workshops around Nový Bor and Kamenický Šenov
Small towns north west of Jablonec know for their glass production, museums and galleries
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 October, 2001 trip to Czech Republic.


In October a group of six of us went on a bead-buying trip to the Czech Republic. Two of the group were friends of mine from Florida (I live in Minnesota) and one of their daughters. The other two found out about our trip from an article on the Orlando Bead Society's web site and asked if they could join us. So we were a very diverse group. A bead shop owner, two bead teachers, a daughter who does not bead, an Email Administrator from Chicago and a Chemist from Michigan currently working for a US company in France.

Most of us arrived by different routes, at different times, on different days but finally all hooked up at our hotel in Zelency Brod on a Wednesday night. This is a small town about an hour north of Prague in the mountain area of the Czech Republic known as Bohemia, which is the glass capital of the country. Most of our daily journeys were to a town another 20 minutes north called Jablonec, but there was a pressed glass bead factory just in back of our hotel and a production lampwork factory just down the road. Several of the other small towns in the area yielded other bead and glass factories and fascinating antique shops.

It sounds too good to be true doesn't it? A bunch of beaders in the middle of the area where most Czech beads are made. Well it is not as easy as it sounds. Even though many of the factories are still family run small operations the technology is still a highly guarded secret, and you are not allowed to tour the factories. Also most of the factories do not sell to the general public. All of their production has been consigned to a major distributor who has a very tight control on the market. You could order from a factory only if you wanted 30 kilos of a single color in a single size. We were prepared to buy in bulk, but not that much of a bulk. A few of the factories do have public warehouse shops, but you have to take what they have on hand at the moment, seconds, overruns, etc and can't get anything else out of their warehouse. Which was frustrating because they usually had samples displayed of what they made. But even if you know where the shops are located, chances are that no one speaks English, although we did find many that spoke German and luckily one of our group spoke German.

Even if we could not go into them we got very good at spotting the factories along the road or in town. The smokestacks were a dead giveaway along with the whooshing sounds of the furnaces and the clanking of the bead presses.

To add to the dilemma the highways in this area are small curvy two lane mostly unmarked roads, making getting lost a daily occurrence. So how do you get around all of these obstacles? You hire a guide familiar with the bead industry who is speaks English, German and Czech. She made appointments for us with the factories that did allow shopping, gave us information on the history of the bead industry in the area and took us to several antique shops, including one that was 90% vintage beads, glass, buttons and bead pressing equipment.

Thursday highlights
We visited the offices/warehouse of a company that happens to have a web site (www.bellis.cz). The factory was across the street, but of course was off limits. In the showroom they allowed us to pick out some of their lamp worked beads and glass lampworked flower arrangements. They then decided we could go down into the warehouse. The workers were sorting and packaging beads in a room that was filled floor to ceiling with bins and paper bags full of beads. We were allowed to look in any of the bags or bins on the left side of the room and pick out what we wanted to be put into a plastic bag and were charged by the kilo. These bins and bags each had about 30-50 pounds of a single kind of bead. What we really wanted was the fire polished beads we saw on the other side of the room, but that was not allowed.

The next stop of the day was to a production lamp work company called Motivo, which was housed in the basement of an old house. The office/showroom was in one room and the other two rooms each had three workstations (Picture 1) where a very young (teens and early twenties) female crew were making lampwork beads on a production basis. This we were allowed to watch, and could buy what we wanted from their stock. It was fascinating to see the same bead produced many times very quickly and accurately. It was very hot in the production room but we were glad to see that proper exhaust systems and other safety precautions were in place as we had been told this is not always the case in the Czech factories.

The last stop of the day was to be at an antique shop in a small town on the way back to our hotel that had "some" beads, according to our guide. It turned out to be a very small two-room shop almost totally devoted to beads, buttons, glass and bead making equipment. The entire backroom was shelves of mostly vintage seed beads (in various sizes) many packaged in 2 - 5 kilo quantities (Picture 2). They also had selves full of button sample cards and bins full of jewelry and glass pieces. One of the most interesting pieces was a large wooden box containing trays with bead and button molds (or the blanks that made the mold pieces, I still need to do some more research to determine which). I bought a few of the mold pieces from the box and a hand held bead press. Which looks kind of like a very large set of pliers with a fixed set of mold heads to make a single type of bead.

Friday highlights
Friday started out with a trip to the factory store of one of the largest bead producers, however they did not have any beads to sell only finished jewelry made with their product. Finished jewelry is also a very large export business from this area and mostly accomplished with home based workers as it has been for decades. We were disappointed that we could not buy the actual beads but we still did buy some of the jewelry.

From there we went to another branch of a factory store we had visited the previous day. This branch also had seed beads in 50 gram bags plus wire beaded flowers and Christmas ornaments along with more finished jewelry. We had been told that the factories were very far behind in their seed bead production, as much as a year. This was evident at this factory, as you could see the nearly empty bead storage bins through the factory windows.

The "Farm" as our guide called it was the last stop of the day. Located far out in the country the family run factory in located in the barn, with a showroom and shipping area in one room of the farmhouse. Any broken or mis-produced beads are thrown onto the farm driveway (Picture 3) (Picture 4), making it a sparkling entrance to the world of beads for all visitors. Unfortunately it was raining the day we were there, but it was still impressive.

Saturday highlights
The entire group agreed that the highlight of the trip was a visit to a private museum that maintains equipment used 100 years ago in the production of lamp worked (Picture 7) and pressed glass beads (Picture 8). For a fee the owner will fire up the equipment and allow all in attendance to try their hand using the old time methods. The owner of museum comes from a bead making family known for making the glass flowers (Picture 9) (Picture 10) that you now only see very occasionally, and in very rough shape, at antique shops. Each petal is an individual lamp worked piece that is then put together to form a flower. Being able to try out the equipment, and seeing his display of his family's work were the highlights of the trip. Many other production shops in the area have contributed old equipment (Picture 11) to the museum resulting in a very extensive collection of vintage equipment located in a small cottage behind the owner's house in a residential area of town. We saw many types of bead presses in addition to a hand turned tumbler (for polishing) and large grates for sizing the seed beads.

Sunday highlights
Most of the group left Saturday night, but two of us remained for a few more days to go castle hunting (we found three) and more antique and glass shopping. The few antique shops we went to yielded a nice collection of antique jewelry, fire polished beads and vintage glass cabs. As the region is also know for its glass production we could not go home without some of the magnificent glassware and crystal creations available in the retail shops. We also visited the glass museum in Jablonec, which is home to the largest necklace in the world. Made by some lampwork students in the area, the quality of the beads is not high, but it is truly large and adorns the entire stairwell wall of the museum.

Summary
The trip was great fun, but would I go again? Probably. But, the new beads we bought can be easily obtained at home. They may have been less expensive, but not when you factor in the airfare and the fact that many of them were seconds. The main lure to Czech, in my opinion, is the vintage items you can find, (which will not be available much longer), and the total immersion in the glass industry that you feel when you are there. The area just oozes glass. The guides, the factory owners, the antique store proprietors and museums hold such a wealth of knowledge of the bead and glass industry in the area. Some of this is because it has been and is still largely a family run cottage industry. But the larger, more efficient (but much less personable and approachable) conglomerates are replacing the families. Being in the Czech Republic makes you feel like you are truly in touch with your beads as you know have seen fist hand where they were created. Every beader should experience it at least once.



 

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