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Imitations and Identification of Amber

Plastics are the most common amber imitations. Plastics can be distinguished from natural amber. Celluloid is a trademarked, thermoplastic composed of cellulose nitrate and camphor. Amber imitators of celluloid and glass can be distinguished from amber by the fact that when rubbed the imitation does not become as electric and gives off the odor of camphor. When celluloid is dipped in hot water or heated, it also gives off the camphor odor. Other plastics give off the unpleasant smell of carbolic acid and no smoke. Amber heated will produce a whitish smoke and smell like burning pine wood or a sweet odor. Plastics are quickly attacked by alcohol (95% ethyl alcohol), acetone (100%), and ether; when scraped with a knife, it gives off shavings. Amber is slowly attacked by alcohol and amber powders when scraped with a knife. Amber and plastic are both warm to the touch and can be distinguished from glass which is cool to the touch and has a higher specific gravity.

A good test for separating amber and imitations is that amber will float or be buoyant in sea water or salt saturated water (about 2.5 tablespoons per 1 cup water). Imitations of amber will sink in salt water; bakelite resin has a specific gravity of 1.25-1.55 and glass imitations will sink even more quickly. Amber is identified from plastic imitations with a hot point test (hot needle held with tweezers). When the hot point touches the suspected amber in an unobtrusive place, the material will burn and give off an odor (plastics=a disinfectant type odor of camphor or carbolic acid, amber=burning pine wood). The hot point will make the plastic sticky and leave a black mark. The hot point will make amber brittle and chip off.

Visit these sites to learn how to spot Various Modifications of Amber by Wieslaw Giertowski, a recent article available on how amber is reconstituted or pressed and placed on Doug Lundberg's amber pages, as well as How To Make Your Own Amber, and Grade the Quality of Amber. For more information on identification visit Real or Not? and Is Your Amber Necklace Real?.

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