A skull of one's own
I seem to have been more lucky than most people: for my copy of this rosary, I just happened to walk into my local bead store when they had a bunch of 1-inch skulls hand-carved from peach pits in stock. These are nearly the same size as the originals in the 16th-century rosary, though of course mine don't open into two halves with little carved boxwood scenes inside! I promptly bought ten of them and have never seen them anywhere before or since (till this week: see below!).
I thought I'd take a look around and see what kinds of skull beads are available for others who might want to replicate this rosary. Disappointingly, most of the ones I can find seem to be only about half the size of mine, and they vary widely in quality and style. Most of the skulls I found were bone, though I've also seen them in wood and pewter.
Bone skulls in the half-inch size range seem to be the easiest to find. The good thing about these is that they're usually fairly cheap, running from 10 cents to 30 cents each or thereabouts. They often come as ready-made strings of 108 (the number in the most common type of Hindu prayer beads).
Most are not very realistic looking, such as Shipwreck Beads item #52BS153. The other big online bead source, Fire Mountain Gems has something similar, currently for a much better price (but you have to buy the whole strand). An especially fun place to shop, South Pacific Wholesale Company (despite the name, they do sell retail) also has these. (The catalog from this place is a hoot!)
I wouldn't buy skull beads without seeing a good photo, because there's an even more abstract and less realistic style out there as well -- basically two holes for eyes and a slit for the mouth, or else a very schematic face with the mouth just scratched in, and roughly cross-hatched to represent teeth. This seems to be an Asian style. Shipwreck has very small (10mm) ones as item #68BS153 (25 for $3.65) and I've also seen larger ones of this type, such as Shipwreck's item #94BS156: 1 inch tell, $1.60 each.
Aside from the big bead companies, skull beads tend to be found at places with titles like Pyrates of the Coast, or else at "Goth" sites such as Goth Rosary.
(By the way, I personally see a lot of the "pirate" and "goth" cultural thing as an amusing take-off on religion. But some may see it as hostility to religion, in which case you'll have to decide whether you want to shop at such places or not. More on this another time....)
If you're willing to pay more, there are some better types of skull beads out there as well. Just on a quick search, I found several at a place called Spiritcrafts: pewter skulls (14 x 10mm, drilled side to side, $1 each), some much cruder black glass skulls (13mm, 80 cents), and some rather cheerful ceramic skulls (19x10mm drilled side to side, $1 each).
Last but not least, I did find peach pit and boxwood skull beads, but unfortunately, only from wholesalers. With minimum orders like $1,000 or a full cargo container, this isn't practical for most of us!
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P.S. That's where the first draft of this post ended. The next day, my phone rang and it was a friend calling on her cell phone from a bead show. "They have some nice skull beads here," she said, "Want some?" and she described them. I said yes, and though I haven't seen them yet, they certainly sound like what I was seeing wholesale. So perhaps bead shows are the best place to find skulls of one's own!
Posts in this series:
Death's head devotions
Skulls: the inside story
Skulls: the inside story, part 2
Skulls: the inside story, part 3
Voldemort, part 2
A skull of one's own
More living color