"African Amber": Everything you ever wanted to know!

Posted on November 21, 2018 by Abraham Silverman | 4 comments

Since we started in this business in the 1980s, one of the great enduring mysteries has been the origins of "African Amber" beads.  The stories were fabulous:  the beads were hundreds of years old (not true), made from bits of real amber and mixed with the resin of a particular tree (not true), became more beautiful as they were worn by picking up the oils in the skin (true!), and had vast spiritual powers (that one's up to you).  The legends were epic.  

But the reality is no less fascinating, as thoroughly explained in a new paper by our friend Rosanna Falabella, in her paper, "Imitation Amber Beads of Phenolic Resin from the African Trade," published in the fabulous "Beads:  Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers" (28:3-15 (2016)).  

As Rosanna explains, these beads are actually an early plastic known as phenolic resins, and akin to Bakelite, and date from about 1910, with production continuing perhaps as late as after World War II.  As she describes the process:

Phenolic resin is much harder, more rigid, and more durable than the natural amber it imitates. Artisans in Africa have taken advantage of these traits to rework the original beads into beautiful and sometimes intricate works of art (Figure 5). The simplest modi cation is cross- drilling (drilling a hole perpendicular to the original one) which allows the beads to be worn at. A second common modi cation is reshaping cross-drilled beads into soft diamond shapes, a traditional shape found in Africa among real amber beads.

Just a lovely article delving into the history of these beautiful beads

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4 Responses


December 04, 2019

I would like ask your amber

Robin kubit
Robin kubit

April 03, 2019

Is gifted a lovely collection of African treating beads in northern California. Do you buy collections? Where are u located? Please call me. Thank you!


Mayka Fernández Majo
Mayka Fernández Majo

January 15, 2019

Thank you very much for correcting the error in the shipment. You have been very serious and professional. I’m very grateful.

Mª Carmen Fernández Majo
Mª Carmen Fernández Majo

January 11, 2019

Hello Larry
I’ve waited a month for you to send me the rest of the necklace beads. I have not had an answer and I do not know why. The best thing is that you reimburse me for my money and let us settle this operation.
I paid you = 2×125 $ + 145 $ + 20 $
You sent me half the order and you gave me back $ 3
415 $ -2×125 $ -3 $ -20 $ = 142 $

You must return me $ 142.
Please, do it as soon as possible.

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