Bead Terminology
seed beads | pony beads | crow beads | charlottes
fire polished beads | tile beads | lantern beads
white hearts | French brass beads | old-time brass beads

Seed Beads

A very small bead about the size of bird seed. These are primarily used for covering the surface of an object (a bag, moccasins, etc). They range in size from 10/0 to about 22/0. The larger the number, the smaller the size. A 10/0 is often used by beginners. Most people work in 11/0 or 12/0. Beads smaller than 13/0 are rarely made today (some 14/0 are still in production). The very small sizes will make you go blind (just kidding but they are hard to find and work with). We typically only stock sizes 10/0 - 13/0. Seed beads were introduced after 1840. Note that seed beads are sometimes called "rocailles."

Browse our seed beads

Pony Beads

Basically a large seed bead. These beads were introduced to the Native American trade before seed beads (possibly as early as 1675). Some sources say these beads got their name because they were transported by traders on ponies (but other sources dispute this). Pony beads are typically found in sizes 5/0 and 8/0. Note that some craft stores call these "E" beads. The 8/0 is the most commonly used size. These beads are used for the same purposes as seed beads but the work is obviously not as fine.

Crow Beads

Basically a really big seed bead. These have the same shape but usually range from about 6mm - 9mm with 9mm the most common. Oddly, these beads are sometimes sized with numbers like 31/0, 32/0 etc. This method is just too confusing (because the general rule is the larger the number, the smaller the bead, and this breaks the rule). To make matters worse, some crafts stores call these "pony beads." Arrrrgggg!  These beads are usually strung and used for necklaces, chokers, breastplates, etc.


A "charlotte" is a size 13/0 cut seed bead. A cut seed bead is a bead in which flat surfaces have been cut into bead. This makes the bead reflect light and sparkle a bit. Very popular for fan handles, small bags, or anywhere an elegant touch is needed. A very popular bead. Oh, we have no idea why these are called "charlottes."   Note that all charlottes are cut beads, but not all cut beads are charlottes. They must be a size 13/0 cut.

Fire Polished Beads

In the Native American trade, the term "fire polished" always refers to a round, facetted bead which is typically 6mm or 8mm in diameter (although smaller and larger sizes exist). Fire polished actually refers to a method used in finishing beads and has nothing to do with the size or shape. But in the Native American trade it always refers to a round bead. These beads are most commonly used in making women's Plains-style breastplates but also occur in chokers, straight dance bandoleers, and many other projects. Note that while the bead may be large, the holes are quite small. You'll need to use some type of bead string, imitation sinew, or something similar to string these beads. Forget using leather thong of any type.

Tile Beads

Typically a 4-6mm tube shaped bead. These were most commonly used to decorate Plateau women's dresses but are also used to make drops on bags and other projects. 

Lantern Beads

An interesting octagon-shaped tube bead being made in the Czech Republic. As far as we know, this is a relatively new bead and has no historical use in Native American crafts. However, they are quite flashy and pretty cool so we're carrying them to be used wherever a fire polished bead would be used. These beads have small holes like the fire polished beads.

White Hearts

White Hearts is a term used to describe a bead which has a white lining. The bead is actually a transparent glass but the white lining causes it to have somewhat translucent qualities. White hearts come in many different sizes including seed beads, pony beads, and crow beads. White hearts have always been a prized bead. Today, one of the "holy grails" in the old-time seed bead market is trying to make (or find) the perfect shade of red white heart seed bead. This color was commonly used by the Plains Indians and has proven to be very difficult to reproduce. In fact, one of the main indicators used to authenticate antique beadwork is the color of white heart used (as well as other colors and many other factors). Note that white hearts are sometimes called cornaline d' Aleppo beads. White hearts are being made in France in most sizes and in crow bead sizes in the Czech Republic. India is also making them, but a different manufacturing technique is being used which makes them a little clunky looking (at least in our opinion).

French Brass Beads

This term is used to describe solid brass beads which were commonly used in the Native American trade. It is frequently seen in breastplates, chokers, and similar items. The normal size is about 8mm but smaller sizes also exist. Note that the term "French" is somewhat generic. Some beads are made in France, but most are made in Asia or India today. This bead has a large hole and can easily be strung using leather thong.

Old-Time or Hollow Brass Beads

Old-time brass beads are generally tubular or barrel shaped and are typically hollow. You might ask how a bead can be solid or hollow. Aren't all beads hollow?  They all have holes, don't they? Well, it's kind of hard to describe. Basically, the French Brass Beads are quite heavy while the Old-Time Brass Beads are quite light. Note that while we (and many other vendors) sell beads which are called "old-time brass beads," none of these are an exact reproduction of the old beads. Some are pretty close, though. These beads are typically about 7-8mm and are used for the same purposes as the solid French Brass Beads.

Copyright 1998 Matoska Trading Company Inc