Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Antique Silver Bead Signed by Iraqi Haron, made in Yemen

We are so pleased to have found a man in Yemen who could translate the stylized signatures written in the archaic Arabic in use as late as 1900. We sent photos of our beads to the translator in Yemen who graciously 'read' out the names. This one was a puzzle to him, because he did not know that Iraqi could be a Hebrew name. I mention Hebrew here, since the Yemenite Jews were the silversmiths that created so much of the jewelry for the wedding customs in Yemen of the 1800s and 1900s. The translator did not know the history of the Jews and that Iraq had many Jews from the times of various diasporas. 

Those familiar with the Hebrew scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) know that often a given name was accompanied with a place name. Up into New Testament times, we read Saul of Tarsus, Jesus of Nazareth and many other such names. So it would not be unusual that such a tradition should hold among a tightly knit community of minority people in a place such as Iraq or Yemen. 

This bead is an important cultural artifact of the Yemenites, especially of the work of the Jewish silversmiths. Such beads were usually strung on necklace with amulets for the bride to wear on her wedding day and then own as a dowry, such as in this photograph (see more information on this piece here.  This culture no longer exists in Yemen. By 1948, the silversmith workshops had closed and the artisans had gone to the state of Israel. 

This bead is a handsome ornament when hung on a chain or cord, or used as the focus of a beaded necklace, such as I have done in this design put together with a bead much like the one that is the subject of this blog entry. 

See more information on this necklace HERE.

Dimensions of signed bead in first photo: 34 mm (1.33 in) x 36 mm (1.4 in)

To purchase the bead signed by Iraqi Haron, CLICK  HERE.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Out of Yemen Bead by Bead, Traditional Jewelry Disappears

Antique Yemen Silver Bead Pendant Signed by Silversmith on Sterling

This large silver bead from the late eighteenth or early twentieth century in Yemen is decorated not only with the signature of its maker but also with two handmade carnelian beads and smaller silver beads. The traditional pattern applied to the large spherical bead is called by at least two different names: lentil and starshot. Since this style of bead is not made of filigree or dots or granules of silver all over the surface, its smoother surface allows the silversmith a place for his signature. 

This one is indeed signed as was the traditional practice. The bead has been worn a lot and the signature is quite worn, as are the decorations on the bead. It is thereby graced with a beautifully balanced patina. It has been in our collection for several years and we have never polished it, only buffed it lightly with a soft cloth. Moreover, it had not been polished with chemicals before we collected it. 

It is an eyecatching adornment and needs no other surrounding decoration. So I simply fashioned a sterling silver wire choker or torq and hung the lovely old bead on it. The bead itself was made of coin silver from the Maria Theresa thaler of the Hapsburg Empire, a coin that was being used by Europeans from about the mid-1800s to the early 1900s to buy Yemen exports such as coffee and frankincense. 

The neck wire encircles the old Hebrew document

You are quite familiar with coffee, but many moderns do not know frankincense. It is secreted from the Boswellia tree or shrub and is used in worship services as incense. It was used in Yemen to make amber beads as well. In fact, the Yemeni people use the same word for 'amber' and for 'bead.' The frankincense resin is not quite a hard fossil like the Baltic amber. But it is hard enough to make the old irregularly shaped beads, really just globs of frankincense resin that have been bored through and strung. They make very attractive primitive style beads. Much of Yemen's oldest extant jewelry includes such beads. 

It was for this substance and for the coffee beans -- some of which were roasted 'arabica' style in Yemen before export -- that the Europeans brought the silver thalers from which this bead and the smaller bead baubles were made. Agates such as carnelian and quartz are also highly prized in Yemen. The Yemenis still export the clear quartz agate beads that do not show the large crystals as might be expected of quartz; rather they are somehow clear and smooth in appearance. The carnelians on this pendant are not from Yemen; They are from India. They bear the characteristics of handmade beads, in that the bead hole was bored by hand. It does not go straight through the small carnelian beads and it is quite a bit smaller at the interior joining of the bore that was made first from one side of the bead and then from the other. 

Pendant Measurements: 35 mm x 84 mm (1.4 in x 3.25 in, including carnelians and small silver baubles) 
Torq Length: 18 inches (46 cm)

For purchasing information see my website at