Russia and 16th-17th century fur trade beads
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07/24/2018, 08:36:33

http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/anthpubs/ucb/text/kas081-004.pdf

Before the 18th century, Russia did not exploit its own gold and silver deposits.
Siberian fur was the government's main currency and it provided its suppliers with enormous
profits. These super profits ensured the rapid advancement of Russian promyshlenniki,
merchants and Cossack detachments into Siberia during the 16th and 17th centuries. Every
method possible was used to catch or acquire the valuable pelts of sable, beaver and the reddishbrown
fox. Two of these were: 1) the actual commercial hunting by Russians and 2) the
collection of iasak (tribute) from the indigenous Siberians. Yet, in many 17th and early 18th
century documents--official dispatches and customs' records from the Siberian border at the
Urals--one encounters numerous reports concerning goods being brought to Siberia for trade
with the local population. On one such list, following an entry for copper cauldrons and iron
axes, are odekui orpronizki--large beads--deep blue, light blue, or white in color. Each hunting
artel can-ied several kinds ofthese trade beads (sviazkii, snizkii) with them. Agents representing
merchant trade houses in Ustiug Velikii, Sola VYrchgodskaia, Vologda, Yaroslavia, and Moscow
brought beads to Siberian ostrogi by the pud. Beads of mammoth ivory, animal teeth, and
semi-precious stones, previously handmade by indigenous people, quickly disappeared. Clothes
began to be decorated with this imported good -- beads made of glass.
Beads were not manufactured in Russia before the mid-18th century. From where, then,
did this extremely popular trade item come? Lois Dubin in her book, The History of Beads,
writes that Russia, like all the Baltic countries, imported beads from Moravia and Bohemia, and
even some from Venice (Dubin 1987: 110, 111). This assertion is hard to accept. Continual
military conflicts between Russia, the Crimean Khanate and Poland during the 17th century
would have made large-scale deliveries of beads from central Europe difficult. A northern
approach into Russia would have been the more likely route for beads coming from Eastern
Europe rather than an overland route. Beginning in the mid-16th century and lasting throughout
the 17th, Holland carried on an active trade of colonial goods with the Moscow government
through the mouth of the Northern Dvina River (Platonov 1922). By 1584, Archangel had
emerged as the major Russian trade port of that era. This particular period marked a flourishing
of bead manufacturing m Amsterdam (Dubm 1987: 112-113). During excavations at the
Colonial Glass Production in Irkutsk
Mangazeia ostrog, a whole series of Dutch and English colonial trade goods, including large
beads, was discovered. The ostrog is located above the Arctic Circle in the area between the Ob
and Enisei Rivers and it was active from the 1500s until 1643 (Belov, et al. 1981). Visually,
these beads are comparable to samples from the Dutch East India Company which appear in Lois
Dubin's "Bead Chart" (Dubin 1987).
By delivering the beads to Archangel, they followed the shortest route to reach their
main users in Siberia and in the Urals. Documents from the Imperial Commercial Collegium (the
Russian Ministry of Trade at that time) point indirectly to a Dutch interest in the Russian market
as early as the mid-18th century. In 1750 there were 2,123 pud and 38 pounds (nearly 77,000
pounds) of [small] beads sent through the port at St. Petersburg and 19,786,000 large beads, and
4 pud, 6 pounds (approximately 150 pounds) of cut glass (Staniukovich 1988: 156). Such a
large importation of beads into Russia can be explained by the mid-18th century fashion of
embellishing women's clothing with intricate details and embroidering festive headgear. This
style of using beads was embraced in the Russian cities and villages, among the nobility and the
peasantry. Beads and cut glass were used in icon rizas, to decorate smoking pipes, in letter cases
and for picture panels in drawing rooms. Beginning with the sea mammal hunting trade in the
Aleutian Islands in the 1740s to the 1750s, there arose a great demand for the less expensive
odekui (pronizki) for trade with the indigenous people of North America.


Related link: http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/anthpubs/ucb/text/kas081-004.pdf

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