African glass "Trade Beads" of European origin came into existence when European Traders along the route between Europe and Africa were pressed for an acceptable currency form to exchange on African soil. Brightly colored glass beads with exotic shapes and intricate patterns fit extremely well as the most desirable trade material due to the popular demand that African Cultures had for luxurious and unusual adornment. The classic traditions of African Adornment were finely crafted of gold, iron, ivory, and bone and other organic materials. Gorgeous exotic stone beads of Indus Valley origin were actively traded in the Empire of Mali at this time. However, glass working technology outside of Egypt and the Ancient trade in Northern Africa was mostly unknown in Sub Saharan Africa at this time. Therefore, the exquisite glass beads that the European traders had to offer were widely and rapidly received.
The Dutch and Portuguese were among the first Europeans actively trading along the African Coasts dating back to the 16th century. "Trade Beads" manufactured in Europe readily fit into a barter currency system used for African goods and already actively traded commodities such as ivory, gold, copper, spices and palm oil. Sadly, slaves were also an actively existing trade, and certain beads were also accepted in this heinous practice as well. European trade beads took on such importance and cachet that they became a status symbol of wealth and power in African communities. Certain types deemed the most valuable were reserved for use only by Kings and their Royal Courts. Almost all cultures in this time period viewed these exotic "foreign" glass beads a symbol of wealth and social standing. The beads entered into the realm of Heirloom Beads and Dowry Currency, and were passed down from generations of families as highly treasured possessions.