Full Chisel Blog

June 7, 2011

Red Amber

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:26 am

Red amber sounds like a contradiction as both red and amber are both colors, but in this case it is one in the same.

According to Merck’s Index [1930 edition] amber naturally occurs: yellowish, reddish or brownish. Red amber is a fairly rare form of amber, but red fossil copal also exists.

I am in a quandry about what to do with this cigar holder. I do on occassion smoke a good cigar but I don’t use a cigar holder. I do however make varnish and this would be a prime ingredient. Do I sell it [value $150-225 US] or grind it up for varnish?

I cover all about rendering amber soluble in Shellac, Linseed Oil, & Paint – Traditional 19th Century Woodwork Finishes.



  1. Sell it and buy even better cigars!

    Comment by Steve Jones — June 7, 2011 @ 7:59 am

  2. Sell it — it’s hard to come by clean pieces of amber big enough to make things out of… while not nearly as hard to come up with scraps suitable for being ground into bits.

    Comment by catx — June 7, 2011 @ 8:47 am

  3. Stephen,

    Books here in Claremont. What”s the price?

    I don’t have your phone number with me.

    On borrowed computer.

    May delete this after reading……


    Comment by Ken Pollard — June 7, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

  4. Steve and catx,

    I am leaning in that direction, I just can bring myself to grind this up.


    I sent you an email with the information you requested, I hope this will be sufficient.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — June 7, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  5. I vote for the grind, no matter it’s cost, what’s the cost of replacing the same quantity of red amber?


    Comment by Trevor Walsh — June 8, 2011 @ 7:37 am

  6. Well, if you grind it up, you’ll have a nice story to tell in your next book. What is that worth? (I’m a tight wad, though. I’d try to find some scraps for the story and sell the holder).

    Comment by Mike — June 9, 2011 @ 5:02 am

  7. Sorry, Stephen, this is too red; I think there are 3 possibilities depending on the age of the piece. 1) Before 1900; it’s dyed red. The old Konigsberg (now the capitol of the Russian oblast Kaliningrad) amber guilds long knew how to dye, modify and clarify its color using natural dyes (later synthetics; nowadays both); I’ve spent more time than I care to remember researching the old “amber alchemia.” 2) After 1900; not only dyed but heated and pressed into form (i.e. “ambroid”); not considered fake or counterfeit as long as only genuine amber pieces were used and all the sellers down the line represented it as pressed amber. 3) It could be Sicilian amber, famous for its red color and unique phosporescence, but very rare– no, I don’t think ol’ Strad and the Cremona Boys got their reddish amber tone from this; the color would not survive the melting process (the idea that amber colophony varies in color dependent on the original color of amber is absurd).
    Also, I’m concerned when I hear you guys talk about grinding up jewelry grade amber– while it is real amber this may, or may not be, genuine succinite (true Baltic amber); only succinite gives amber varnish its properties. While other types of amber (Stantienite, Beckerite) show up, it is succinite’s little brother, Gedanite (after Gdansk), which causes trouble due to its melting point being (according to those I label the “varnish botanists”) nearly half that of succinite, and it is said to be of inferior hardness (“friable amber”). Its clear yellow/yellow-orange color makes it very attractive. My point: using amber of unknown variety is not completely reliable in varnish experiments. Buy your amber “rough” from a supplier to artists or musical instrument makers, which will have a high percentage of genuine succinite. The best suppliers (those specializing in historic, natural materials) offer Baltic amber comparable to the old Prussian grade of rough amber called “Firnitz” (or “Firnis[s],” “varnish”), which had to pass through a screen one quarter of an inch (“ein viertel Zoll”).
    Enough for now. I consider myself a “theoretical woodworker” (supposedly pro but spending more time coming up with things to put on wood than fashioning the wood itself into furniture); I like the term; physicists get away with it and theologians no longer have to believe in God (until their dead, of course).
    Curiosorum experimentorum amator.

    Comment by DJR — June 9, 2011 @ 10:18 am

  8. i would have said grind it, but after reading djr’s comment, i’d have to agree with them (i know valid knowledge when i hear it).

    Comment by anastasia — June 10, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

  9. Are you in a hurry? My life regrets stem from not mulling things over until I learned more.
    I parted with a pound of cake Indigo once thinking I would never need it.
    It’s not eating anything, so keep it.

    Comment by Steven M. Lalioff — June 15, 2011 @ 5:39 am

  10. And I forgot to add…I once had an ancient Egyptian red amber bead the size of a golf ball…it was more translucent that this piece you show. It also had a waxy quality.

    Comment by Steven M. Lalioff — June 15, 2011 @ 5:42 am

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