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the World of Amber!
Garry Platt's Comments and Collection!
Garry Platt, a fellow amber connoisseur, has sent me information
and photographs of his private collection! I
appreciate all his correspondence and his article on
His beautiful photographs are included in the
Life in Amber section within
the document, but can be accessed here also.
Garry's amber collection includes entombed
spider webs and even air!
Both specimens above are of Baltic origin, from Lithuania.
The spider web in amber is magnified 100X, while the bubble is 120X magnification.
The image directly above is what Garry Platt called a two-phase, anhydrous
piece of amber. The photograph shows a bubble of air trapped within this bubble
of water. He believes the analysis of air from the two-phase inclusions,
both pre- and post-Cretaceous boundary layers, indicate a reduction in the
amount of free oxygen by more than 7%, and act as a partial indicator of
why so many large animals died out at this time.
Identifying True Amber (Succinite) by Garry Platt
Since the screening of 'Jurassic Park', interest in amber
has grown significantly. Unfortunately, so has the quantity of fake amber coming
on to the market. Some of these pieces have insect inclusions skillfully
placed in the body of the matrix. The British Natural History Museum recently discovered that
a bee preserved in amber thought to be one of the oldest known examples of this
particular species was in fact a fake and probably no more than 150 years old.
Evidence of this nature, that even the best can be fooled, should alert all
collectors to the possibility of being misled or simply cheated.
In some cases copal, tree resin not fully fossilized to amber and up to
3-4 million years old, is sometimes described as true amber. Debate still rages
in the United Kingdom about certain Kenyan deposits as to whether they should
be called copal or amber and similar arguments can be found in South America
There are a number of tests which can be carried out on amber to check
authenticity and they are listed below. More sophisticated, complex tests are
possible but require laboratory equipment to measure refractive index, specific
gravity, melting point, and a polarized light test for detecting ambroid (conglomerated
and pressed amber). When examining the specimen in question, try at least three of the
following methods. If the specimen fails any one test, it could indicate the piece
is not true amber.
Hardness. Amber has a hardness on Moh's Hardness Scale of 2-3 and appropriate
scratch sticks should be reasonably straightforward to test the sample under
question. [Please be aware this is a destructive test.]
Hot Needle. Heat a needle point in a flame until glowing red and then push the
point into the sample for testing. With copal, the needle melts the material more
quickly than amber and emits a light, fragrant odor. Amber when tested does not melt as
quickly as the copal and omits sooty fumes. [Please be aware this is a destructive test.]
Solubility. Copal will dissolve in acetone. This test can be done by dispensing
the acetone from an eye dropper onto a clean surface of the test specimen. Place one
drop on the surface of the test piece and allow to evaporate, then place a second drop
on the same area. Copal will become tacky, amber will remain unaffected by contact with
acetone. [Please be aware this is a destructive test.]
Fluorescence. Copal under a short-wave UV light shows hardly any color change.
Most amber will fluoresce a pale blue.
Friction. Rub the specimen vigorously on a soft cloth. True amber may omit a faint
resinous fragrance but copal may actually begin to soften and the surface become
sticky. Amber will also become heavily charged with static electricity and will
easily pick up small pieces of loose paper.
Taste. This test was introduced to me by an antique trader who specialized in
amber beads. She explained that one of the most reliable tests she used was to
taste the amber after washing in mild soapy water and rinsing in plain water. Whilst
she could make no distinction between copal and amber, plastics and other common
substitutes had an unpleasant or chemical taste. As a method of identification I
have not seen this procedure recorded elsewhere. This is a good non-destructive
method of differentiating substances misleadingly labeled amber.
Inclusions. Infrequently amber contains flora and fauna inclusions and correct
identification should be an excellent indicator of a piece's authenticity. Most
inclusions from ancient amber are of species which are now extinct.
Flotation. Mix 23 gm of standard table salt with 200 ml of lukewarm water.
Stir until completely dissolved. Amber should float in such a mixture and some copals
together with plastic imitations will sink.
Find out more about
Imitations and Identification on this page.
More of Garry
Platt's amber collection can be viewed at Bob's Rock Shop.
You can contact Garry Platt for additional information at:
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