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  • Place of origin:

    Pacific Ocean (originated)

  • Date:

    19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Beads played an important role in early global trading networks. From the late 15th century the international trade in beads became increasingly dominated by glass beads produced by manufacturers in Venice, Holland, Bohemia and Moravia. European glassmakers were even able to reproduce forms of beads made of organic materials – stone, bone, shell – which had previously been sourced from other parts of the world.

This small spherical bead is made of white shell, probably from the South Pacific. It was given to the Museum in 1904 by Moses Lewin Levin, a London bead merchant who ran an import-export business between 1839 and 1913. The business specialised in European glass beads intended for use in trade in Africa but this shell bead suggests it also kept examples of beads made of organic materials.

Physical description

Single bead of white shell, oblate spheroid

Place of Origin

Pacific Ocean (originated)


19th century (made)



Materials and Techniques



Diameter: 1.1 cm

Object history note

The donor of this bead was Moses Lewin Levin, a London bead merchant whose import-export business operated from 1839 to 1913. Most of the beads he dealt in appear to be Venetian although in 1898 the Levin Company was listed as an importer of Venetian, Bohemian and German beads. The British Museum has an important collection of glass trade beads (including some on sample cards) acquired in 1865 from Lewin Levin. (See – The History of Beads, from 30,000 BC to the Present, Lois Sherr Dubin, London: Thames & Hudson, 1987, p10.)

Historical context note

The accessions register notes that the white shell from which the bead is made probably originated in the 'South Pacific Islands'.

Descriptive line

Single bead of white shell, probably for European trade in Africa




Black History


Ceramics Collection

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