Some timeline info on PF beads
Re: PF -- Timbuk-2 Post Reply Edit Forum Where am I?
Posted by: Rosanna Post Reply
12/02/2016, 22:11:08

There is a lot of detail on what I've discovered about PF beads in the BEADS article that will be out soon. After the print copies are out, I will be able to send out e-copies a short time later.

But here's what I know about the "time line", so far:

1910 - first commercial production of PF resin. So, no PF beads can be older than this date. Imitation amber beads before 1910 were made of glass, Galalith and Celluloid. Note: I have never seen any Galalith or Celluloid beads in the African trade - has anyone ever found any?

1910s - I could not find any documentation of PF beads of any kind; there is some literature that talks about PF production being turned over to the war effort (1914 - 1918) so possibly not a lot of bead- making activity during this decade.

1920s - 1940s - I found many references to PF resin targeted for the costume jewelry trade, but nothing on beads for the African trade. There is one report, by Jean Gabus, of PF beads being swapped for real amber ones "for many years" by Syrian traders in the French Sahara. His comment on imitation amber was related to Mauritania, and he was there from 1950 - 1952, so I suppose this indicates that the PF beads were coming into that country before about 1950. Pretty thin "evidence", though.

1950s - I found two references, 1951 & 1952, that specifically mention PF beads being made for the African trade, as imitation amber. Both sources were German. So it is possible that a lot of PF beads found in Africa date from post-WWII Germany. Some of the people involved with the amber industry in E. Prussia escaped to the West before the Russians took over the amber-producing regions. Hamburg was one location, but I don't have any specifics other than the Bernstein Manufaktur-Hamburg was one of the sellers of PF beads. The company with this name today is a totally different one from the post-WWII company and therefore a dead end for any details.

1960s - I have no documentation specifically about beads, but it looks like a lot of PF production for costume jewelry was winding down in the 60s. Starting in the late 1930s, other plastics like Lucite were already replacing PF in jewelry applications. One "very new-looking" Moroccan-style necklace of PF beads that I purchased a short while ago was identified by Stefany as from the 1960s, for example.

So, I have very little hard documentation but I have heard the same thing as you, that PF beads for the African trade date from the 1920s and Germany. But I can't prove it. I'm sure there is information in Germany that would corroborate this, but someone will have to spend time in libraries, with shipping manifests to Africa, etc. to find the hard evidence. And, beads could have been made in any other country in Europe from PF stock that was being manufactured all over the place. I think the place to look more closely would be in the records of goods shipped to Africa by major exporters.

And since Germany was involved with making real amber and pressed amber beads for the African trade since the late 1800's, I believe a lot of the PF beads were made in Germany. In the interwar period, that would have been mainly in East Prussia. I am continuing to research this and may have some more info to publish next Spring in the Bead Forum newsletter.

Your bead is definitely made from PF. Since it's in such good shape, I think it's from post-WWII but of course I can't prove that. If you want to verify it's PF, take a bead reamer (diamond grit) and ream a little sawdust from inside the hole, and sniff it. It will smell like phenol (carbolic acid). For comparison, do this on some other PF beads, and then on other plastic beads and amber beads to get familiar with the different odors.

Modified by Rosanna at Fri, Dec 02, 2016, 23:18:19

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