About Mardi Gras Beads


A Short Bead History

Mardi Gras beads, as we know them today, are very different from those of forty years ago. As a Mardi Gras parade spectator in New Orleans in the 1960's you would have been awaiting (and likely screaming for) their Czecholsovakian glass bead necklaces. Because of the celebration's increasing popularity, and rising prices for the glass beads, they were replaced with plastic bead necklaces around 1970. These coveted glass beads have since become a collector's item. (The coins thrown from parades, called Doubloons, are also collected by many.)

These days your typical "throw bead," so called because it is inexpensive enough to throw from a parade float, is a machine made plastic bead necklace imported from China. While hand-strung (more expensive) plastic bead necklaces are sometimes thrown from parades, they are usually reserved for float riders' friends and family (or those who "earn them").

Two Kinds of Beads

Mardi Gras beads can be broken down into two categories: 

  • Hand-Strung Beads
  • and
  • MOT beads (throw beads)

Hand-strung Beads

Hand-strung beads, as their name implies, are individual plastic beads strung on to a thread by hand.  They are typically more unique, colorful and more expensive than their machine-made counterparts. Many handstrung beads also have one or more medallions, either at the bottom or throughout the necklace. These medallions can be made of molded plastic, PolyStone, or metal alloy. (PolyStone is a ceramic filled polymer. The ceramic filler gives PolyStone medallions the look and feel of lightweight stone.)

MOT Beads

MOT (Molded on Thread) are beads which made by molding plastic onto a string.  After molding the beads, the appropriate finish is applied (pearl, metallic, etc).  A particular style of bead is made many feet at a time and then cut and assembled.  To assemble the two ends of the necklace, a metal pin is heated until it becomes "red hot" and then the two loose-end beads are pressed into it -- the plastic melts and cools around the pin, resulting in one strand of beads. Some factories are now leaving the pin out, and simply melting the two end beads together.

Bead Colors
Mardi Gras beads are available in a variety of finishes:
  • Colored Metallic finish
  • "pearlized" AB finish
  • Common Colored Plastic
  • Dyed Translucent Plastic

Metallic Finishes

The metallic finish is now the cheapest of all to produce. The cheaper prices are a result of the cheaper recycled plastic used in manufacturing these beads. Because the finish will completely cover the bead, it does not need to be made from virgin plastic. After molding, but while still in one very long strand, the beads are dipped in a solution which creates the metallic effect. The beads are then either dipped in paint, or it is sprayed on. Some factories use a water based color, while others now use oil based to reduce the possibility of color fading and bleeding.

AB Finishes

An AB Finish creates a shiny opalescent look to beads, and is used to create the "pearlized" finish. This particular finish requires that the beads be made of virgin plastic, making them as much as 25% more expensive than a metallic necklace the same size.

Translucent and Common Finishes

Both translucent and Common Finish beads are made by adding dye to the plastic before molding it. There is no additional labor or coloring to do after molding the beads, which historically made them the cheapest type of beads. However, they are now more expensive than metallic beads because their manufacture also requires virgin plastic. They are typically cheaper than AB beads because they require less material and labor.

Where they are used...

Mardi Gras Beads are not just for Mardi Gras anymore!

St. Patrick's Day, 4th of July and Christmas all have parades which make great times for beads. Mardi Gras theme parties have become popular also, which make beads a hit at Proms and Birthdays alike.

Spring Break revelers love Mardi Gras beads.  Restaurants and Corporations love to use them as give-aways, especially when they are customized

We would love to hear your stories about beads, and where they are used. Please send them to:

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Entire contents 2001 Bead Sale, LLC
Last updated: Jul-07-2001