My favorite collectible vintage beads are of Vaseline glass made. What makes it different from any other glass beads is that it is Uranium made. Uranium gives them a real special glow, giving them the unique ability to show themselves in all shades of yellow and green, like a chameleon. Although this may seem strange, there is nothing strange about it. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Uranium used as a coloring agent in glass and paints. In lower concentrations the beads will have a yellow color, in higher concentrations, a greener look.
Uranium is a dangerous substance of glass, but because it encased in a glass cage, beads made with it are totally safe. I’ve been selling vintage beads for several years and I have collectors who I save Vaseline glass beads for, because they are not as common as you may think. There has been relatively little written about them, yet Uranium has used in glass since the mid 1800’s and is a beautiful example of the glass makers art.
The only way to make sure you have Vaseline glass beads is to check them with an ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light will cause them to have a bright yellow-green glow…which is truly beautiful! Under soft light they may seem to actually glow but under fluorescent or incandescent light they may actually look dull. At a recent bead bazaar, I had a guy who owned a night club. He visited my table with an ultraviolet light and to my surprise, we discovered more than a few surprises. I have a miniature ultraviolet light that I carry with me when I’m searching for beads or vintage necklaces. The only other glasses that will glow are Custard glass and Burmese glass because they are also made with Uranium, but they are not transparent.
Uranium glass beads
The first use of Uranium achieved when it separated from or to make glass. This achieved in 1789 by Martin Klaproth in Germany. But it wasn’t until 50 years later that Czech glass maker Josef Riedel actually used Uranium salts to create yellow and green glass. Riedel named the two colors after his wife, calling one Anna gruen (green) and the other Anna gel (yellow) . Bohemian glass makers varied their Uranium glass by adding other ingredients like sulfur and cadmium to meet amber and orange colors, selenium added to meet pink. The glass was not only used for beads but for art object, vases, bowls etc.
During the art-deco period, Uranium glass objects and beads declined in popularity because the colors were not modern enough. Besides, with the onset of World War II, using Uranium in glass band. There was concern about the health of glass makers and both the United States and England restricted access to Uranium for military reasons. That control is still in effect today, besides which Uranium became very expensive.
It is because of these restrictions that Vaseline glass beads are extremely collectible, I now have about forty different bead strands in my collection. I’m always on the hunt for different shapes and sizes. If you happen to find some, snap them up, usually bead folks are not as savvy as antique dealers who price any object made with this glass expensively. Happy Hunting