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amber-msg - 5/2/01


Period use of amber. Types of amber and suggestions on buying it.


NOTE: See also the files: amber-buying-art, jewelry-msg, Norse-msg, V-Arts-and-A-art, gem-sources-msg, pearls-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: rlobinske at aol.com (RLobinske)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Amber

Date: 30 Jan 1999 12:16:49 GMT


>Does any one know of a period means to 'make' amber? Or for that matter any

>way to make fake amber?


>Lady Beatrice

>ladybea at kdnetmail.com


Since amber is fossilzed tree sap, you can't "make" it.  Otherwise, it was cut

and polished like other stones (though a bit more carefully because of its

softness).  However, it can be melted and some suppliers will melt down scrap

amber into larger pieces and reshape, reputable dealers will tell you this.


Amber is not an expensive stone, the most expensive cabochon in the Rio Grande

catalog (http://wwwriogrande.com) is $10.80 for a 18 x 13 mm stone.


Victor Hildebrand vonn Koln




From: miladysca at aol.comDRAGON (MiladySCA)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Amber

Date: 30 Jan 1999 13:52:44 GMT


Amber is not an expensive stone, the most expensive cabochon in the Rio Grande

catalog (http://wwwriogrande.com) is $10.80 for a 18 x 13 mm stone.


Victor Hildebrand vonn Koln



The expense depends on numerous factors, such as color (dark red is the most

costly ...), whether or not the material has been heated (which makes it an

ivory color), and the amount of material (obviously). I've seen necklaces in

the range of $1000.


Interestingly enough, in the area where I live (SF Bay Area), Chinatown is a

marvelous source for amber.  I'm planning a return trip to pick up some

incredibly beautiful *green* amber earrings.


Fiona de Bousis

Kingdom of the West (Mists)



From: david.razler at worldnet.att.net (David M. Razler)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Amber

Date: 30 Jan 1999 14:48:44 GMT


| Does any one know of a period means to 'make' amber?  Or for that matter any

| way to make fake amber?


| Lady Beatrice

| ladybea at kdnetmail.com


Lots of things:


1 - complete faux amber - made from one or another thermoplastics or resins

and passed off as the real thing by bad dealers and artificial by the honest



2 - reconstituted or "recon" amber - a mixture of n percent real amber (often

very low) and n percent modern resins - extends and adds profits, as far as

bad dealers are concerned. Any dealer claiming that his/her recon is 100%

amber should be whacked over the head with it, IMHO


3 - addition of inclusions - since a silly movie involving dinosaur DNA and

mosquitos in amber came out, the price of amber trapping natural objects has

increased tremendously - so has the desire of some to heat the amber and add

modern ones, oft times with some modern resin as well. I saw a lovely amber in

pewter (sometimes billed as "silver) art nuveau piece over and over again at

last Pennsic and at many a jeweler featuring a large cab of "genuine amber"

including what looked suspiciously like included clear sequins to increase the






David M. Razler

david.razler at worldnet.att.net



From: sigen3 at aol.comnojunk (Sigen 3)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Amber

Date: 31 Jan 1999 06:15:00 GMT


>I find that hard to believe, since heat-treated amber changes color, taking

>on the appearance and texture of ivory.


I own many pieces of heat treated amber

that have retained their original color.

I have pieces that are red, green, butter

lemon, cognac, etc...  You can tell that

a piece has been heat treated many ways.

Shape, size and shape of air bubbles,

"spangles"  etc...


Not all heat treated amber will change

colors.  I have become quite adept at

over the years at identifying natural,

heat treated, re-constituted, resin mixes,

and just plain fakes.  


Many of the bracelets and pendants sold

by merchants are indeed heat treated, and

do retain the original color.  This is done

by placing the nuggets in a mold, and gently

heating them to the melting point.  


Amber comes in an amazing variety

of colors, and I wonder if what you

are seeing isn't a natural color that

happens to have been heated?


Sigen Fridreksdottir

the "amber baroness"




Date: Mon, 08 Feb 1999 16:44:04 -0500

From: capriest at cs.vassar.edu (Carolyn Priest-Dorman)

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Melting Amber


Diarmaid wrote:

>>  while I can't find any way so far to melt amber


Heat it in oil is the method I seem to recall.  This was something I read

about eight years back; I think it was in this book.


     _Catalogue of the carved amber in the Department

     of Greek and Roman Antiquities_, by D.E. Strong

     (London:  British Museum, 1966).


Mainly what I remember is that in antiquity amber was boiled in olive oil

(which, I think I remember, had the additional effect of clarifying it)

until it was quite plastic, then pressed into moulds.


Carolyn Priest-Dorman                 Thora Sharptooth

capriest at cs.vassar.edu                Frostahlid, Austrriki



Date: Mon, 08 Feb 1999 21:58:06 -0600

From: Stephanie Howe <olga at icon-stl.net>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Melting Amber


You might want to check the reference for amber in Ralph Mayer's "The

Artist's Handbook".


"Amber varnish has a traditional reputation as the varnish par

excellence, but it is doubtful whether any such product was ever in very

wide use.  Amber is an extremely insoluble and intractable substance

and, as all varnish makers know, most of the old recipes calling for it

are unworkable, being either versions garbled through much copying or

deliberate frauds."  The entry goes on to discuss various theories,

including confusing the resin sandarac for amber, or "amber" being used

as a descriptive for whatever hard, transparent resin happened to be in

hand by the medieval writers.  *Way* useful book- if you don't own it,

you should!  ;)





Date: Tue, 09 Feb 1999 01:10:05 -0600

From: Gunnora Hallakarva <gunnora at bga.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Melting Amber


When I get home tonight, I will check my copy of Patty Rice's "Amber, Golden

Gem of the Ages" which is sort of like the Amber Bible.


Master Ulf Gunnarsson of Ansteorra did a project in which he made actual amber

varnish.  Diarmuid, I would consult with Ulf -- if it wasn't him, it was

someone up in Oklaholma, and I'd bet that either Ulf or Tarl or Stacia will

know who.


My memory of my readings indicated that amber was powdered, then heated in oil.  

I'd use something dense, like linseed oil, perhaps cut with some turpentine.

There are several medieval varnish recipes that use amber -- I know I've seen

them, I just am not sure where.


Let me check Patty Rice and I'll report back.





Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999 02:15:52 -0500

From: Melanie Wilson <MelanieWilson at compuserve.com>

To: "INTERNET:sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu" <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>

Subject: Melting amber


>Would alcohol melt amber?  I keep thinking that a solvent, rather than

>heat, is needed.


As it is one of the tests for detecting real from fake Amber I would guess



If the surface of your 'amber' has gone soft Marc it is probably copal not

amber. Compressed pieces of amber  put in alcohol will show their join

lines. But amber is not affected by alcohol or benzole. Sorry to be the

bearer of bad news . See various tankards etc made of amber particularly

16th C





[Sent to the Florilegium by: "Alderton, Philippa" <phlip at morganco.net>]

From: aland <aland62 at FRONTIERNET.NET>


Date: Monday, July 05, 1999 1:27 AM

Subject: [SCA-U] RE. amber


   It is difficult with a dremel to drill holes in amber.  It is just too

fast.  Amber does not respond well to heat.  You can get a hand drill

Handle from jewelry suppliers such as Statchura's or most likely from Rio Grande. You will be able to get a hole through the amber with a dremel... however it will be mostly melted through and not cut.  the difference is in one case it will be a very noticeable line through the amber ( from the melting)  and the other is cut through and less noticeable.


    Like wise if you are attempting to carve the amber avoid the dremel as

it will cause heat that will lead to "crazing"  or cracks going through it.

And trust me when I say it is very disappointing to have spent time on a

great piece and then have heat crazing happen.  For carving get a good set

of files also available from a jewelry supply store.  a jewelers saw and jig

work well for cutting out the base shapes, be warned that although x-acto is

the most commonly found it is a horrid saw.


    Most of the dremel attachments will fit the hand drill handle ( this is not a crank type- it is basically a mounted chuck.)  although I doubt that you will find them useful.


    Woodworkers warehouse (the chain store) carries a wonderful set of drill bits that are truly tiny. The best for drilling small holes in amber! do not try them on anything harder- but you will be very pleased with the way they cut amber.  do not use the finest of them as the amber will again damage them... but they all will work well with bone.


    a word of caution on amber,  it is rather brittle.  if you do not keep

your drill steady it will be likely to shatter.  It is however on of the

easiest substances to carve you will likely ever find.  It is also readily

available in raw form and is relatively cheap.


    If your amber is not as clear as you would like it, it can be rendered

down and strained to remove the horrid little bits of bark etc.  I use a

wire mesh and a small rubber mold to create little blocks about 1" square by

1/2" .  it has a fairly fast set rate but should not be handled for at least

24 hours.   Rendering is best done with quantities of at least an ounce. if

you go for more than 8 ounces you will likely get scorching.   It also has a

fairly low melt temp and an almost equally low burn temp.   Like wise one could place an object into the amber (it is done all the time- most insects are now put into amber.) be warned that currently so many of the wholesalers are adding bugs and such that it is more likely that they are added inclusions and not natural inclusions (saw one ad in  Lapidary Journal for a piece with a minnow in

it!  As if fish were climbing trees a million years ago!)


    Save your cuttings and drillings and there you have your incense. or you

can render them for more carving material :)


Hope this helps...


K. Roberts



From: Krista Wohlfeil <Krista.Wohlfeil at PictureIQ.com>

To: "'stefan at florilegium.org'" <stefan at florilegium.org>

Subject: amber

Date: Tue, 6 Mar 2001 15:26:24 -0800


   There are several tests for determining if a piece is real amber or not.

Unfortunately they all involve causing some sort of damage to the stone.

Amber will dissove, albiet slowly, in alcohol.  For this reason you should

avoid using hair spray, gel or perfumes after putting on any jewlery.  It

can damage the surface of the piece leaving it dull.  You can also take a

scraping and burn it.  If it has a pine or pitch smell it's amber, if it has

a burnt plastic smell, well, it's plastic.  When looking at inclusions be

careful to look at the amber around the inclusion, especially if it's an

insect.  Unless the insect (or other critter) was killed instantly, the

material around the bug should be stirred up because of the critter

struggling to extract itself.  There may also be signs such as wings and

legs being torn and "trails" where the insect did manage to move a little

way prior to dieing.  Be wary of pieces that have "perfect" bugs.  These

will be in clear "amber" most likely, with all body parts in tact, and the

legs all laying in the same direction or in the typical rigor pose of a dead

bug (curled up).  There are some great fakes where the "artist" actually let

a bug wiggle around before finally smothering it in the epoxy resin (very

convincing, but somewhat akin to pulling the wings off a fly).  Real amber

with dirt, bark and other vegatable material will typically show a slight

haze around the material where it rotted before hardening.  It will also

typically show some sort of flow pattern around it.  This will not always be

visible to the naked eye. The "spangles" seen in many pieces of amber are

from water droplets being caught in the material.  While it can look rather

flashy and fake, it is indeed a real inclusion.  Unfortunately thay can also

weaken a piece.  Look for square edges deep in the piece.  This can occurr

in natural amber, but it is more likely a sign of reconstituted amber.  It's

still "real" but has been made of chunks of smaller pieces.  Depending on

how much of a purist you are, this could be a good or bad thing.

Personally, I have seen some recon pieces that are beautiful.  If you're

serious about your amber, I suggest buying a jewlers loupe.  They're

relatively inexpensive (from $10 to $20 each) and can help spot some of the

more subtle tell-tails. I've also found that pulling out a loupe at a less

than reputable shop can make a less than honest dealer find their conscious.


   Amber varnish can still be bought today. The best places to find it are

in violin repair and materials shops or at high priced artists supply

stores.  It's expensive, but beautiful, and worth every penny considering

the time it takes to make it.  I have had a chance to work with it on wood.

If you ever seen a well done shellac, think of that, but deeper and less

"waxy" looking. The color can be dependant on the type of oil used

(typically walnut or linseed, sometimes cut with turpentine, mineral

spirits, or olive oil. Soem recipies also talk about usign lavender oil.)

and the color grade of amber.  It's also harder and more resiliant than

shellac.  Other resins such as copal and dragon's blood can be used with the

amber varnish to enhance the color. This site

http://www.mauigateway.com/~donjusko/paint1881.htm has a laundry list of

paint and varnish formulas which include several different variations on the

amber varnish.  The big thing to remember with the processes used in the

middle ages and Renaissance periods was that they used heat, something

rarely done today with the availability of factory made cold process oil

paint.  I doubt amber varnish can be made using cold process.  Also, if you

choose to attempt to make your own amber varnish you need to be extremely

careful as many of the materials can be highly volitile when heated.


   Not only does amber have the congac, honey, ivory, green, red and blacks

(deep red) but there is also blue.  This, of all the amber colors, is the

most rare, and in my opinion, the most beautiful.  If you ever come across a

blue piece that's marked at what could be considered a reasonable ammount

it's probably a fake.  They tend to be smaller pieces, running in the

hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.  Greens can be heated to blue, but

it is a very difficult process to do without destroying the overall

integrity of the piece.  As has been itterated before, any good dealer will

tell you if a piece has been altered (beyond carving) or not.


Krista Wohlfeil

Kushala of the Highland Korsairs

Kingdom of An Tir


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org