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October, 2001 trip to Czech Republic.
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.
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.
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.
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