Vintage Glass Beads – Everything Old Is New Again with Perry Bookstein

Tomorrow's vintage glass beads? My stash from York Beads.

From Jennifer: Being just four hours away from New York City, you'd think that I might get down there more often. Unfortunately, between work and my family and now my yoga teacher training, I don't often get the chance to travel down to the Big Apple. But earlier this year, I decided to treat myself to a day trip down to Manhattan where I spent a couple of hours walking around the neighborhood of West 37th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues — where the bead shops are! Of course, I stopped in at M&J Trimming and the Toho Store, but I spent most of my time hanging out at York Beads and all the amazing pressed glass beads there!

When it comes to my beading addiction, Czech glass beads are my weakness. Lucky for me, York Beads owner Perry Bookstein knows more about these glass beads than most people, and he should — his family has been in the bead business for 90 years!

Enjoy this guest blog from Perry about vintage glass beads: what makes them vintage, why we love them, and what we might expect to see from tomorrow's vintage glass beads today!



This true vintage glass bead (above) was the inspiration for the Picasso coatings of the new, modern SuperDuo two-hole seed beads (below).


Vintage beads. What are they? One of my customers refers to vintage glass beads as "beads from a by-gone era". To be considered vintage, a glass bead is one that is not currently being produced, and may not even be considered "in style". A true vintage glass bead is difficult to find, but that's exactly what makes them so desirable. Working for York Beads, I have been lucky enough to be around vintage glass beads my whole life. York Beads was founded in 1924, and hundreds or thousands of fashion trends have come and gone through New York City in those 90 years, and you can find the evidence of those fashion trends in the basements of bead businesses like ours throughout New York City. Even better, those remnants of times gone by can now also be found on the bead tables and in the bead stashes of artists around the country! 

I started at York Beads in the early 1990s. Lots of bead shops were opening up, and I would get lots of phone calls. "Send me $100 each of pinks, purples, and blues." I would dig through our vast hoards of West German and Japanese glass and ceramic beads, and pick out assortments for these small bead shops. We stored these beads in our basement, and I started to think of the basement as the Land of Discontinued Beads. 

As the years went by, I started thinking about glass beads more like a collector would, and I started wondering what made a bead "vintage". To this day, I still don't think there is any one correct answer as to what definitively makes a bead vintage. I asked one of my colleagues, Carl Schimel of CJS Sales, what he thought made something vintage, and he gave me a two-part answer: a collectible vintage glass bead, like good art, will not lose its value and is something that can be handed down from generation to generation; an aesthetic aspect of vintage means that a particular bead or component will give your finished product an "old style" feel, but may not necessarily add value to it. (Think faded blue jeans.)

During this time, I also started to collect trade beads, and many of my favorites are Venetian glass beads. They are truly antique and could never be reproduced today as they were hundreds of years ago. I love to look for molded Czech glass beads that are not made anymore. The molded Czech glass are special, because it is very hard to start up production of a new shape of glass beads. (From someone who has been working with producers on the new spike and Beadstud shapes, I can verify this information from personal experience.)

Making a new kind of glass bead involves a number of things, from start up funding to securing a large enough volume of orders to guarantee production, down to deciding on a range of sizes and colors or finishes. The mold makers of today have a unique set of skills, but times have changed, and there is less and less demand for these kinds of skills. These are the reasons why I love the highly grooved molded glass beads of yesterday — these beads are not easy to reproduce, the molds may have broken or been destroyed, and the skilled labor to re-create them is just not there.

The last 90 years have seen times of great economic activity, including a couple of "bead booms",  but just like everything else in retail, these were slowed by economic and even political circumstances. During times of political and economic upheaval, the glass beads that were destined to be shipped to the United States would be stored temporarily, then forgotten. Even in the United States, retailers and wholesalers with large amounts of inventory found themselves closing up shop and putting their inventory into storage. Years later, these vintage beads get rediscovered and are suddenly more valuable than they were when they were packed away!

Today, most pressed glass beads on the market are the popular Rullas, Rizos, spikes, SuperDuos, and Beadstuds. Some of these beads even have coatings and finishes applied to them to make them seem like they are vintage, like the Picasso coatings on SuperDuos. Aged stripes and table cut (faceted) beads also reproduce the look of vintage.

Beads are endearing to us, they are collectible, but we should also remember that they are a commodity. When you find that special unique item, see if you have that extra shoe box to store it in. Ten years down the line you may be happy you did.


If you want to make some room in your bead stash while you wait for today's hot trends to become tomorrow's vintage beads, pick up a copy of the latest Jewelry Stringing magazine. You'll find dozens of inspiring jewelry designs using glass, ceramic, and metal beads, plus product reviews, tips and techniques, and great ideas for beading on a budget! Subscribe to Jewelry Stringing magazine and get inspired to make tomorrow's heirloom jewelry today.

Do you have a favorite kind of vintage glass bead? While I love vintage pressed glass beads, I'm also a sucker for nailheads of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog and share your favorite vintage bead finds with us!

Bead Happy,


You can see more of the lovely glass beads on the York Beads website (wholesale only), or check out their eBay store for retail offerings!

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