Faux coral beads from the African trade
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Posted by: Rosanna Post Reply
01/04/2018, 19:23:12

I recently received some faux coral beads from Christian Siegenthaler (beads-de), who was interested in anything I could tell him about them. The samples included two different types of early plastic - Celluloid and Galalith. All the beads and pieces were elbow-shaped, although Christian also has some straight beads that are a brighter shade of red (see second picture). The latter beads also tested positive for Celluloid.

Imitation coral beads made of glass that appear virtually identical to these plastic versions are fairly well known in the African trade (see additional pics below). There are pictures of imitation coral beads on a 1921 Sick & Co. sample book - it remains a mystery as to the composition of the particular beads advertised on this card. One of my own hypotheses is that the bead suppliers back then may have used all three materials - glass, Galalith, and Celluloid - for very similar beads and sold whatever they could get from their suppliers as imitation coral.

Note: if you happen to have any of the Celluloid versions of this bead, please be aware that they will burn easily and will not self-extinguish when flame is removed. This is one of the negative properties of Celluloid that was eliminated when Galalith and phenolic resins were developed.

As discussed in earlier posts, the easiest way to ID Celluloid is to do the bead reamer test - ream the hole and sniff the resulting sawdust. If you smell the strong, perfume-y odor of camphor, you have Celluloid. If you need to have something for comparison, ream a hole in a regulation Celluloid ping pong ball or a Celluloid guitar pick (generally the ones with a "pearloid" appearance).

ImitationCorals.jpg (226.3 KB)  StraightImitationCoral2.jpg (155.9 KB)  

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