Will you be suggesting an alternative title or description?
In past auctions I have used a TITLE similar to "African Amber", or "Tribal Amber beads", and then in my DESCRIPTION have clearly pointed out that it is not true amber. Would this be considered misleading?
This is an excerpt from one of my recent auctions:
"The material although generally thought to be true Baltic amber, and often referred to as such, is actually a phenolic resin material that has been used in trade to Africa and other parts of the world since the late Colonial period, and as early as the late 1800's. Many bead dealers do not recognize this material as anything other than genuine amber and some will argue with you if you tell them it is not."
Sometimes in the description, I just refer to it as "synthetic amber" from the African trade.
If one cannot say some form of "Amber" in the title though, it could be difficult to get a buyer to look at the product at all. I am certainly open to any suggestions that will improve fairness and understanding, without killing a sale. But as you know, if you cannot get a buyer to open the page, you will never get a sale.
I hear you and agree, the description needs to clarify the material the offering is made of. Unfortunately, the title itself is misleading ("African Amber"), but regarded as necessary. Those of us familiar with the material know it was probably manufactured with intent to be misrepresented to Africans, so 85 years later it is no surprise the stuff is still so widely misunderstood. I ran an experiment on the trades page to confirm what you have just expressed - my offering is still up, placed on Aug. 7. It took almost 3 weeks for the beads to sell, and even now the image has been viewed only 66 times, because my title is: "2 Huge Phenolic Plastic Beads". A savvy dealer bought 'em for resale, as my text even invited buyers to do.
But what I do find unacceptable without proof is allegations by some sellers that there is some mystical inclusion of or probability of actual fossil resin contained within material that is plastic. It's definitely a problem when an item is repped as "Copal Amber" (what is it, copal or amber?) with no further clarification. And it's a problem when there is no discussion of composition when the item is titled "African Amber". Also unacceptable are horn beads represented as African Amber.
Jan, I applaud your overall point of view and thorough efforts in your auctions - I always have appreciated your A+ quality offerings.
I think you are a little early on the phenolic resin material dates though - I believe they appeared in the late 1920s.
Joyce, here are the two sample card photos that I archived for my own use, posted originally on this site or NBS, I am not sure which. Both of these are Czech, I believe. One may have come from Jamey, I am sorry I don't remember...
When I refer to these I call them imitation amber or simulated amber, sometimes "manufactured amber-replica beads made of phenolic plastic." Jamey can give a much more accurate description.
The whole "copal" thing is confusing and often misleading, you're right, but it does seem to be a common term in some circles and as Jan says, there are those who swear the beads contain actual amber material somehow mixed or bound with a resin (not acknowledging that plastic is a resin too).
The bottom three cards are the ones I remembered, posted by John Picard, I believe. I wonder if he can do a new image, a bit higher resolution. Do they say "Simulated Amber"?
Not sure where this came from, maybe Jamey? But it says "Imitation" amber beads. I can't make out the word at the top of the other sample card... perhaps JP can send a better image?
To call "African Amber" or "Copal" phenolic plastic beads or all other plastic beads is a severe misrepresentation. All plastic beads imitating amber (even if they are highly collectable) have to be represented as "Imitation Amber". There is no other possibility.
Concerning natural amber sold per gram in Africa and duly tested, representation as "Mauritanian Amber", "Amber collected in Africa" or Copal are acceptable but, if such a material is not fossilised (unlike Baltic Amber which may be more than 50 million years old), the seller should indicate that the material is immature and assimilable to Copal.
It feels like I have posted this a million times.
The most numerous fake amber beads, found throughout Africa, and at many other places, are cast phenolic plastic beads, most made in Europe (probably Germany, as near as I can tell), and sold everywhere as "amber." This plastic was developed and commercially released in 1926. Therefore, this year, none of these beads is older than eighty-one (81) years old. Many are newer. Perhaps MUCH NEWER.
There are lots of things that can be done with and to amber to alter, beautify, or extend it. When ambroid (pressed amber) is made (by fusing very small pieces together), it is not unusual for a VERY SMALL QUANTITY of other resins or plastics to be added to increase flow. (Because true amber does not liquify when it's melted. It just gets gummy!) It would be less than 5 %—and is permitted by law to be added.
This fact, taken out of proportion and turned around, has become skewed to where people will say that their PLASTIC beads "have some amber in them." Or are "amber mixed with plastic" or "mixed with resin." 99 % of the time (maybe 100%), these are nothing more than entirely plastic beads.
There is an amber preparation, in which small pieces or particles of actual Baltic amber are suspended in Damar resin. But when you view this material, you can SEE the amber bits in a transparent yellow matrix. It is called Bernit, or Bernat. A similar material, amber bits in polyester resin, is called Polybern.
Since a high percentage (easily 75 %) of fake amber beads are phenolic, it would be IMPOSSIBLE for those beads to have ANY amber in them. Repeat—IMPOSSIBLE. The temperatures necessary for the production of the plastic would destroy any amber particles. (Amber is a delicate, heat-sensitive material.) Plus, there would be no chance for the amber and plastic to melt together. At best, we would see chunks of amber floating in a plastic base—and that is exactly what we do not see with phenolic plastic beads. The above products (ambroid, Bernit or Bernat, and Polybern) are the origin of the bogus stories that "my beads are amber mixed with resin," for what are factually just commercial plastic beads.
Since there is now at least one company that claims to be producing "synthetic amber," to call commonplace plastic beads "synthetic amber" is bogus.
While a brine test will immediately indicate imitations that are heavier than amber (such as old Celluloid and phenolic plastics), just because a material floats in brine, this does not, in any way, "prove" it's authentic amber. Some synthetic plastics float in brine, and even in plain water (!). The brine test is good to prove a bead is a fake. It does not prove a bead is authentic. To get closer to authenticity, it is necessary to perform a hot-point text. Even then, it takes chemical analyses to make a legal case, and to determine the SOURCE of the amber.
I generally do not affirm that I can prove a bead is amber. What I say is that I can often (nearly always) prove it when the bead is NOT amber.
"Amber" is a popular name. It is NOT a scientific and/or legal name (except where the name—"bernstein"—is legally regulated—as in Germany). To be scientific, we have to talk about succinite ("SOO-kin-ite"). A material is either succinite or it is not. Many fossil resins that are not succinite are still honesty called "amber." But the folks in countries that produce succinite may argue as to whether the other stuff is "amber" because it is not succinite. This alternative amber (collectively usually "retinite") comes from Burma, Sicily, Romania, Borneo, The Dominican Republic, and México. But there are no international laws that prevent anyone from calling ANY material he/she pleases "amber." The problem is that by doing so, the vast majority think the material is either Baltic amber (succinite) or from one of the other recognized sources listed above (retinite).
"Copal" collectively refers to any of several semi-fossil or even RECENT resins that may resemble amber, and like amber can be made into beads and jewelry. Some say "copal amber" to reinforce this similarity. Copal resins are raw or merely thousands of years old, and have not undergone the structural changes that true amber has received over millions of years. It is softer and has a lower melting point. It tends to biodegrade in only a few years. (It falls to pieces. Amber will do that too—but it takes much longer.)
In the current marketplace, copal is known from only three sources, in terms of being made into beads and jewelry on a commercial scale: The Dominican Republic, Guinea Bissau (West Africa), and Colombia (South America). From all three sources, this copal can be (and IS) passed-off as "amber." This is misrepresentation, pure-and-simple, because copal does not have the required physical properties of real amber (succinite and retinite). To complicate matters, from as early as 1972, phenolic plastic beads—the same beads called "African amber"—are also often called "copal"—even though the material is 100 % plastic.
It is very difficult to convince Africans, and many other people, of the truth of the above.
I moderate a Bead Group at Yahoo, to discuss just these issues and problems.
The combination of the specific gravity test (brine) and the static electricity test should be sufficient to identify amber except for the rare piece of copal which might pass both tests. Why is the hot needle test necessary?
Isn't the static electricity test valid for jet as well?
This is a proven "African Amber" bead that has taken and held a static charge for 4+ minutes. The brine test is more accurate for disproving amber.
As for a compound that passes brine and static test, any alchemist can create it from components purchased from a retail environment at a cost of 4-7 cents a gram. With the market value of amber that would make it a good profit margin.
Did the amber in your photo also pass the brine test?
I have tested in excess of 30 pieces of baltic amber from as many sources. Of all I tested, 5 pieces passed these 3 tests: the relative density (brine), static electricity and the smell tests (sometimes the smell test requires leaving the piece enclosed in a box for a couple of months for it to regain it's smell after having been exposed for long periods). Plastic will never smell like amber.
I want to know if anyone has ever tested a piece that looks like amber which passes the relative density (brine), static electricity and the smell tests but not the hot needle test. I want to determine if the invasive hot needle test is necessary. I want to know the DETAILS of someone's ACTUAL experience with a piece which passes all three tests, but then does not pass the invasive hot needle test.
December 30, 2019
First, since 1907 phenolic plastics have, likewise, been materials that take a negative static electric charge. Consequently this became a useless test in the arena of amber, over 100 years ago (!).
You would have to describe what you consider to be a "smell test." I know what I think that means—but I call it a "rub test."
Because amber and copal are very similar, if it is significant to distinguish between one and the other—the primary difference is MELTING POINT.
The hot-point test is useful because copal melts much more easily than does amber. It also exudes turpine aromas—that are different for different materials (be they plastics, copals, or ambers). This is exactly why the hot-point test can be helpful and even necessary. (The next alternative would be to pay for a chemical analysis from a trained technician.)