Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Is it Amber ?

In the past Beachcombing has been without a doubt a solitary past time building up a huge knowledge of how our coastline works and having very few people to share the information with. The internet and blogging has now changed all that and it is becoming more interesting receiving and sharing information and experiences collated by people with a similar local interest over the internet.

I received this email from Steve McPherson following my enquiries about the sea coal and jet .Steve is also a Thanet collector of Amber and his knowledge and experience is a pleasure read. I never realised we have black Amber on our coastline and at last I have been able to properly date and identify the wood resin classed as Copal.

"Regarding the sea coal and jet - I dont think we actually do get jet down here - I suppose a few pieces may wash down form the north east - but as far as my knowledge goes - the black amber is from forest fires with ash inclusion - that's why sometimes you may find a larger piece with one clear end then mud inclusions going from brown to black, maybe where sap has fallen from the tree onto the ground after a fire, and soaked up what it fell on to. You also find pure black pieces with lighter swirls of brown and white (white constitutes a mass of tiny bubbles), and sometimes also with sparkling red parts. These usually smell like pine or amber when rubbed or heated. Will also have the same static properties as other amber (Electron was the original Greek name for amber because of its properties, once rubbed it would pull small objects near to it. This is where we get the word electric from - meaning amber like properties) The other substances we get on the beaches are copal - that is exactly the same substance, from the same trees and time period 30-40million years - but, it has not undergone the same amount of high pressure that turns it into amber. Copal has a usually stronger aroma, is sometime sticky to touch, cannot be polished, sometimes has a purple or pink powdery surface, may have a partly crackled surface, and will crack and shatter once out of water and exposed to the air for a period of time. You can generally break bits of copal in your hands, amber will usually not let you do that. Copal has been used as an incense and varnish material for hundreds if not thousands of years. You can still find copal in all colours and also with all the same inclusions - insects etc. Which is heart breaking when a piece with an insect in crackles then splits. Smoothed worn Coal usually has veins of a silvery type of substance running through them, and will not have any of the same properties - static, aroma etc that amber has. I dont know about how it acts with the floating method. I have attached an image to provide an example of the pieces made up of black and brown (on the right hand side). It is not as easy to find due to its colouring - but still possible. "

Steve McPherson Marine Plastic Web Art Project

After reading Steve's account it does make me wonder how many pieces of black Amber I may have bypassed in my time, but that's life.
I am now starting my second collection of Amber and Copal as from January this year and to date I have found ten small pieces at Ramsgate .
My first collection of Amber and Copal came from Margate at the beginning of the millennium , I donated the collection to Sarah at the Grotto for display a few years ago. So if your are passing the Grotto pop in and a have a look and it give you some idea what to look for.


Kim Skinner said...

Great information! I love combing the beach and have found two pieces of amber this year. I am newly addicted! Love your blog....

Tony Beachcomber said...

Thank you for your comment Kim. I must say two pieces of Amber for someone just starting is good going as it does take a bit of working out where to find Amber. well done !

Pip said...

Hi There,

Searching the internet for an answer as to what I found beach combing on a much loved Thanet beach today.

I thought maybe it was Amber, but its smell now its out of the shallows, is stronger, and slightly sticky when wet, pitted surface, and many interior cracks. It is about by eye, an inch and a half long by say an inch and a quarter width across, looks like a small egg? I can see through it,and marvelled at it in the sunlight today, and upon reading guess its perhaps Copal? Presuming I should not leave out of water as guess it will dry out and the long internal cracks go right through. Soakingin a glass of water in case tonight, Please advise upon this first find! I usually pick up shell and sea glass once softened with out sons! Husband thinks I am nuts!

Any advice gratefully accepted.


Tony Beachcomber said...

Pip, it does sound like a piece of Copal resin. When I find pieces like that I just let them dry naturally unfortunately there will be a few splits.
The good thing is that where that stuff turns up so does Amber. I make notes of every piece of Amber and copal resin I find. Like time of year, weather etc . When I have a pattern I return to the exact spots and each year the same turns up. So far this year I have found 25 small pices of Amber by returning to the same spots.

Pip said...


Thank you so much for the prompt reply. I did the salt water test last night and it floats! ? Most sites I found say most Copal does not float? so now confused! If you want to see let me know I have video / photos...on my phone. can I polish it, of get it polished? I ather Copal does not polish up well in a stone tumbler, but can be hand polished, and buffed?

Exciting find for us anyhow! Hope the first of many! It was found in part of the beach, where no stones are or gather so was really easy to find, I wonder how many shores and what kind of distance it travelled? Its very smooth and like a small egg shape? Pitted surface, with internal cracks and some darker shadows inside. Pip