History brings us back to the Egyptians and Romans who first began to produce these very unique and specials.
Since it is very difficult to trace a continous line from Antiquity to the Venetian Renaissance, it is supposed that the great flow of constant commerce and the cultural and maritime ties with Byzantium en eastern Mediterranean, make possible the reemergence and growth of the bead industry in the Middle Ages.
To give you a good idea of the expansion of this extraordinary bead production, around 1500 there were 24 factories and by 1606 there were 251.
It is believed there were more than 100 thousand varieties of bead types and designs produced in Venice. In 1490 new laws were made that placed the glassmakers guild under the direct jurisdiction of the Council of Ten, the highest governing body in the Venetian Republic. For the next fifty years Murano glassmakers were forbidden upon penalty of death to divulge glassmaking secrets or to leave Murano and set up competitive establishments in other places.
The Venetians reinvented mosaic glass beads using drawn techniques of compound and composite canes, similar to ancient Roman methods. They simplified the production of intricate designs by inventing molding techniques.
In the 17th century Europe gained great profits using these beads as money or tools of exchange just as they had already done exchanging guns, cloth, rum, etc. for African slaves and in the New World, sugar, tobacco, silver and gold.
In general we find today that the Millefiori beads of great artistic value are usually found with an old worn out aspect, due to the hundreds of years and purposes which make them incredibly interesting. The amazing thing is that they have survived through the passing of all these centuries; and the question one can ask is who wore them in the past and who will wear them in the future? How many stories and tales have been woven around the existence of these unique beads?
The History of Beads by Lois Sherr Dubin