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Vaseline Glass Beads PDF Print E-mail
 Weekly Beadditudes with Dara 

Vaseline Glass Beads

Vaseline Glass Beads
What exactly is a vaseline glass bead? I’m so glad you asked! You as a beader should know this. Vaseline glass is a yellowish to yellowish-green glass that turns a gorgeous fluorescent green when put under ultra-violet light, aka black light. Like bright-as-the-neon-sun bright! It’s gorgeous. Do you have them in your bead collection? Oh, but you must.
Beads with a Secret
Vaseline glass gets its astonishing color secrets from glass makers who added between one half to two percent uranium dioxide (or uranium salts) to their glass recipe. Yes, folks, that’s uranium, as in radioactive uranium. They can actually set off a Geiger counter. But fear not! These beads won’t hurt you. Honest. More about that later…
Vaseline Glass BeadsHow it got Started,
and then Ended
The definitive origin of this glass is a bit obscure. We know for sure that it began somewhere in the early 1800’s, since in 1836 a pair of pressed glass candlesticks made by Whitefriars Glass Works in London was given to the Queen of England. If you ask anyone associated with depression glass they’ll tell you that it was probably Central Europe– Bohemia in particular– that began producing vaseline glass. Uranium dioxide was a popular colorant that was used often, and later in the century some glass companies added a heat sensitive chemical to the formula that gave the finished glass a milky white glow. The popularity of vaseline glass raged on and peaked in the 1920’s. As soon as WWII came along, all uranium was pulled from every market for governmental use, and production was stopped. However, it did get started again. In November of 1958 production began in a few glass companies including Fenton here in the United States.
A Good Thing Gets Around
Vaseline Glass BeadsSo many different items have been made from vaseline glass. The vase has been invented countless times over in this glass. You can find dinnerware, decorative glass, ornaments, doorknobs, cosmetic jars, jugs, statuary, paperweights, candlesticks…. Nearly anything that was possible to manufacture in glass was created. When the sun would shine on these objects during the day, they would glow for a limited time during the evening. Quite the conversation piece for parties, dinners and the like. The wealthy couldn’t get enough of this stuff. Fancy dinner tables were set, and people most likely enjoyed the gorgeous glass décor as much as the food.
Ok, but how safe is this stuff?
Quite safe! No worries! The truth is that you’re exposed to radiation in higher amounts outside your home on a daily basis than these beads could expose you to. Don’t take it from me…. Here’s a direct quote from a representative at International Isotopes who was approached with this exact question:
   “Uranium will emit alpha, low energy photons and low energy electrons as it decays. The alpha particle will not escape the glass bead. You may be able to detect a small amount of alpha from any uranium that is just as the surface of the bead, even still the alpha particle will not penetrate the skin or pass through clothing. Low Energy electron and photon dose on the surface shouldn’t be very high. This energy would be deposited in the skin adjacent that is in contact with the bead(s). If you have a G-M probe you could measure the dose or count rate. I do not know the concentration of uranium in the glass so I can’t give you an estimate of what this dose would be. I modeled the photon dose for a 0.25 cm radius bead of pure natural uranium. The photon dose 0.25 cm from the surface is 0.0063 mr/hr. If you multiply that by 10 (highly conservative) to account for the dose due to electron emission then you are at 0.063 mr/hr. To observe immediate affects of radiation on the skin the dose needs to be extremely high. The allowable occupation dose to the skin is Vaseline Glass Beads50 rems (or 50,000 mr) in one year. This dose is much lower than the dose that would result in detriment to the skin. If you use the dose rate from the model and wore the bead 24 hours a day then the dose to the skin beneath that bead would be about 550 mr in one year. The real hazard with uranium is the internal exposure associated with inhaling or ingesting uranium. So I wouldn’t call your uranium beads “un safe” and I wouldn’t expect any adverse medical effect from wearing the beads. But I wouldn’t crush them up and snort them.”
Vaseline Glass Beads
So There You Have It
If you should be lucky enough to find some of these beauties, then wear them! They’re safe. Honest. Where do we get them? Well, The Beadin’ Path has come into stashes of them occasionally, and they sell out quickly. I personally recall a lovely lady named Jo buying all 50 or so strands I had saved up to take to Tucson for the big bead show. Gone, with one person. So don’t miss out on them if you see them.
However, Buyer Beware!
While browsing on e-bay I noticed that some things were labeled as vaseline glass, and they were questionable. So if you find some of these beads, ask the current owner a few questions, and you should know if you’re getting the real thing. For instance, ask if the item has been tested under a black light. If they say yes, ask what color it glows. If they say any other color than bright green then it’s not vaseline glass. If there are pictures that show the item in regular light, and then in black light, you’re ok, but if the seller refuses to show how it looks under a black light, then don’t buy it. Some collectors and dealers even carry their own portable black light with them to be able to check items on the spot.
Vaseline Glass BeadsA Side Note
While shopping at a local department store, I noticed some packages of beads on the wall of fishing supplies that glowed the most brilliant orange and green. I bought a package and thought they’d be fun to do a summer bracelet or something. However, when I looked them up on line to see what other colors I could get, I learned that they have such a huge amount of lead and other bad ingredients in them to make them glow that they are definitely not safe to wear. They’re meant to react with sun and water to catch fish, not to be paired up with sterling and pearls. So watch out for beads that are bad for you. Who knew there was such a thing!?!

“We bead. We reach deep into our hearts and high into our visions — and through our hands flow the love and beauty we bring to life.”
~ Margie Deeb, Out on a Loom


Resources:

eBay Reviews: What is Vaseline Glass? 
Tarotforum.net: Uranium 
Gardenandhearth.com: Vaseline Glass
eBay Reviews: What Vaseline Glass is and What it is Not

Vaseline glass earring pictures provided by The Lang Company Silver Jewelry

 
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