Yellow Glass and Lead

As a recent post of mine said, yellow glass was often made with lead and antimony. I had also heard of tin making yellow, but I’m not too sure.

And I was just wondering to what extent the prevalence of yellow glass beads correlated to the presence of lead-based or lead-containing glass. That is, if lead is a common ingredient in a region’s glass, does that region tend to have more yellow beads? Or does it not matter?

My impression would be yes, since I’ve seen many yellow beads in Europe, and European glasses tend to have lead added in somewhere. They aren’t as lead-heavy as the lead glasses in China, but they do have lead in them.

On the other hand, based on shear numbers, South and Southeast Asia have Europe beat by a wide margin simply in terms of how many beads they have. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they had more yellow beads.

In that sense, I suppose it would be better to look at percentages – the percentage of yellow beads as correlated to lead-based or lead-containing glasses. I don’t really know. but my impression is that yellow is far more prevalent in areas with lead glasses.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re correlated, though. It just means there’s a similar patter (if that – I haven’t done the analysis). But it’s an interesting thought. We know there were many different glass chemistries going around in ancient times, and it would only make sense that the colors you could make easily would depend on the chemistry of your glass. A lot is cultural preference, but a certain amount is also probably availability of specific colorants.


About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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