Yesterday I had a great conversation with Gabrielle Liese, the founder of The Bead Museum located now in Glendale, Arizona. Prescott, Arizona was the original location of The Bead Museum. www.beadmuseumaz.org
Gabrielle talked about The Hubbell bead and I have been looking around for more information about this historical bead. If anyone knows the location where they were originally made I would love to hear about it.
The Beadin' Path in Freeport, Main writes about the Hubbell Bead history.
Beads that have a rich history are irresistible. Sometimes it’s the origin, or
that it was commissioned by a designer, or made by someone intriguing. Many
times I’ve heard people say, “if only these old beads could talk!” and I
couldn’t agree more. Especially beads found in museums, or that have been in
private collections for generations.
Otherwise known as a Hubbell Bead
My first experience with a Hubbell bead
came from Heather, co-owner of The Beadin’ Path. During her bead
buying trips, she often learns the most fascinating things about the beads she
buys. Her choices are what’s interesting to her, and even if the bead is sort of
ordinary on the outside, it doesn’t matter. Stories, names and history all
stored away in her memory are brought back to life with each bead she sells.
She’s shown me fish scales, lime eyes, and rough cuts
to name a few fun ones. Anyway, we were pulling strands of glass out of a huge
box that she had just purchased, sorting and looking for things that were a
priority to get out for sale, and she yelled, “Look at these!” as she thrust
them out at me. Spellbound, to say the least.
How it Began
John Lorenzo Hubbell purchased a trading post in Gavado, Arizona in 1878 and re-named it the Hubbell Trading Post. He provided the Navajo and Hopi people, as well as other tribes and thousands of traders and settlers with supplies to live and
work with. The homestead covers over 160 acres, and the heart of it is J. L.’s business, constructed in the style of ancient Anasazi-style dwellings. The Hubbell family operated the Trading Post for 89 years until they sold it to the National Parks Service in 1967. Today the Trading Post is still alive and thriving under the watch of the Western National Parks Association where the trading traditions of the Hubbell family are still honored and practiced.
Now… the Truth About Those Beads
In my research about Hubbell beads, I hit a lot of dead ends. I mean a lot. There’s a rumor and a belief that Hubbell himself actually commissioned beads to be made for him. Let me just nix that right in the bud. Hubbell didn’t commission any beads. But he did buy beads. Lots of beads. He did his research, found a fantastic source and actually imported from Czech bead makers. But not just any beads.
Consider this logically… Hubbell’s customers were native people, traders and settlers who were invested in the Southwest. They depended on their local resources to provide their life support and in many ways J.L. Hubbell helped them do this. But he also nurtured their appreciation of their cultural art and interest in beauty and adornment. Yes, you could by plowing tools, shovels, fabric, flour and sugar at the Trading Post, but you could also buy locally made baskets, blankets, pottery, jewelry, and other works of art. He actually sold to native people the supplies they’d need to create their pieces, then purchased them back to be sold at the Trading Post. In doing this, Hubbell made a critical contribution to the Indian arts and crafts market. He even arranged venues off the reservation for Navajo weavers and silversmiths and Hopi potters to demonstrate their crafts.
How the Czech Bead Makers Fit In
At the turn of the century, Czech bead makers were chugging out beads at an alarming rate. They experimented with styles and types of beads, and found many popular winners. For one, beads that look like precious and semi-precious stones were a hit. They appealed to everyone since they were affordable and easily available in quantities. Hubbell researched to find beads that looked like stones native to his area: especially turquoise and coral. Czech beads in a turquoise color that looked like real stone, with tiny spider-like veins of brown and black were exactly what Hubbell was looking for. Beginning around 1915, he imported them in a variety of sizes, shapes and shades and sold scads of them, and he also traded for them. To be specific, he accepted raw turquoise as payment for his turquoise-like beads.
Hubbell Beads Today
I’ll tell you up front that these beads are not easy to find. I thought I’d get a smattering if I checked eBay, but I was disappointed to only find 3 things, with lousy pictures to view them with. I emailed some dealers I know to see if they had any in their current possession and the replies all came back no. I’ve seen them in museum displays, especially out here in the west. The San Bernardino County Museum has a lovely selection on display from time to time. I sent out inquiries to the Bead Museum in Glendale, Arizona and to bead societies that are more collector themed. I got quite a few responses saying there were Hubbell beads out there, mostly in finished original pieces, and a few loose beads. Collectors are not willing to part with them. I had no idea how collectible they were until I began this research. I have one strand in a graduating style of round beads. I also have tear drop shaped strands that I bought loose and then stranded up myself. Then I found a little gold mine in a weird shaped pendant that looks like a rough stone. And no way, I’m not willing to part with mine. However, in my downtown area I found a 3 necklaces and one bracelet at an antique shop. So I know if you look you may find some. And what a find it would be. Buy them up, people. They’re a wonderful piece of history and worthy of museum status.
If you’d like to learn more about the Hubbell Trading post you can either visit their web site or buy a great book called Hubbell Trading Post: National Historic Site. It's full of rich history and great stories. Or you can contact them at the address below.
Hubbell Trading Post NHS
P.O. Box 150
Ganado, Arizona 86505
Phone: (928) 755-3475
Photos and article taken from: http://www.beadinpath.com/content/view/547/4/