Amber Enlarge
Aug. t 1. 1808. Publish’d by Ja.s Sowerby London.
British Mineralogy
Bitumen succinum


  • Class 1. Combustibles.
  • Order 2. Compound.
  • Div. 1. Amorphous.
  • Spec. Char. Bitumen in combination with Succinic Acid.
  • Syn.
    • Succinum electricum. Bernsten. Linn. ed. 13. t. 3. p. 108.
    • Succinum durius, Europæum; Succinum. Waller. 2. 108.
    • Karabe, Carabe, Succinum, Electrum, Glessum; Ambra, citrina, Sacal. Lemery Diction. 463.
    • Succin. De Lisle, 2. 589.
    • Succin, Ambre jaune; Karabé. De Born. 2. 88.
    • Bernstein. Emmerl. 2. 81.
    • Petrole combiné avec l’Huile de Succin. Sciagr. 2. 22.
    • Ambre jaune. Daub. 30.
    • Amber. Kirw. 2. 65.
    • Succin. Haüy, 3. 327.

Perhaps, for an anciently-known substance, Amber is as little understood as many more modern substances. Some consider it as a mineral oil with oxygen, or, as Mr. Parkinson, an inspissated mineral oil. By others it has been thought either honey or wax indurated, though mostly judged to be an indurated vegetable gum or resin; and Mr. Patrin, among his arguments for its being honey, supposes gums or resins could not entrap insects, which Amber is often understood to do, and even fishes.

The resin called Gum Anime by the apothecaries and varnish-makers, is often used to make varnish, which very nearly resembles amber varnish, as the resin itself does Amber. Pieces of this frequently contain many ants and other insects, as well as the Gum Copal. I have seen a fish enclosed in Amber, bought at the high price of five guineas*, and have heard of another at the same price, which, when examined, was found to have had the fish enclosed betwixt two concave pieces; the said fish being a badly dried stickleback, a very common inhabitant of our own pools and ditches. It is very seldom, if ever, we see perfect Amber with insects, as it either has a deceptive appearance, or what was supposed to be Amber proves either Copal or Gum Anime.

I find by my specimens of true Amber that it is subject to much variation, even in that character which has been deemed its principal criterion, viz. its odour, as some of the amber-workers, who seem to know it pretty well, find it occasionally very disagreeable. This causes much contradiction among collectors.

The best characters I can find for Amber at present are, that it occurs in irregularly rounded forms with a roughish coat, rendered dull with small semicircular flaws, varying from very bright transparent yellowish red to opaque white. When broken it has a waxy, or resinous, and rather horny appearance; mostly having a conchoidal surface, and often sharp edges. It is resinously electric, and, on being briskly rubbed, gives out sparks visible in the dark. It takes a good polish easily, and retains it better than most resins, with a far superior degree of richness. It is rather colder, and I can fancy it allows the finger to slide more readily over it; it is also rather tougher than the hardest resin.

The acid obtained from Amber, called Succinic; is peculiar to it, the origin of this name being obvious.

Amber is said by Woodward to be found in the clayey or aluminous rock, and on the shore, at Whitby, in three states or varieties. He names the three varieties, Rock, Washed, and Fat Amber, It is found in many of the northern parts of Europe as well as in Great Britain, in which it occurs on the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, chiefly at Lowestoft, sometimes in great variety. Some authors speak of two varieties, white and yellow, but the white is generally described as of a light or straw yellow.

Some parts of the upper figure are so perfectly white that it will not allow of any other denomination: it is opaque, and forms a great contrast to the yellow or redder parts, which are transparent.

The lower figure is taken from a specimen with which I was favoured by Dr. J. E. Smith. It is such as is commonly called Fat Amber, and does not unaptly resemble some sorts of fat, having a mixt and clouded appearance. Some pieces more nearly resemble Mineral Tallow, such as is found in Ireland, by some considered as butter preserved in the bogs of that country.

I have specimens of this, and mention it here, as sufficient, not at present considering it as a truly mineralogical substance, although mentioned by the excellent Kirwan. It is certainly the spermaceti-like remains of some animal. I have also the kernel of a common nut of a whitish fat or greasy appearance, exactly resembling the Mineral Tallow. It was found in the Thames with its shell entire.

Amber is much esteemed when large, and free from flaws, specks or blotches, either for curiosity or for ornamental purposes, and sells for a proportionate price. It is supposed to have preceded the use of ornamental jewels; which seems very natural, as the ruder people would manage it better than hard stones. Accordingly we find in the tumuli of the primitive Britons that they made their beads and other ornaments chiefly of Amber or of Jet, with a few rude glass beads, and some ivory; but we do not know that any gems have been noticed among them.

  • * Not a high price, if no deception.
  • † All the resinous substances arc nearly alike electric by rubbing, which is often considered as a characteristic mark of Amber.
  • ‡ These, according to the observations of my friend, the experienced Mr. Cunnington, are the most antient Tumuli; and although they sometimes have ivory, gold and copper, these articles seem distinctly to have be longed to a more polished people by the neatness of their workmanship, and were possibly taken in barter from the Gauls or Phœnicians. The Amber they made use of is mostly of a dark and very red colour, perhaps from having been long immured in such a situation, being also much cracked, like Amber that has been long exposed. Plates of two inches long by one inch and a half wide have been sometimes found. Amber is sent to the East Indies by the merchants, where it is much valued for its beauty, and its supposed qualities as a charm.
Close-up of poster Get a poster »