Amber Enlarge
Aug 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.

Although much has been said about insects, leaves, bits of plants, gold, silver, and iron* being found in Amber, I do not know of Pyrites having been positively noticed. I have some with Pyrites in it in small globules, and one specimen with the decomposed remains of wire-like Pyrites in long diverging tubes. The latter I figure while there yet remains this vestige of the Pyrites. It was observed when in the dealer’s hands; but as he did not know how to value it, although T told him the Pyrites was decomposing, I did not obtain it until it was nearly decomposed, notwithstanding its being of no value but as a specimen, from its foul and unbrilliant aspect.

The upper figure shows a piece with the striae or tubes more or less filled with Sulphur and decomposing Pyrites.

The lower figure exhibits another piece with small knobs or little round specks of Pyrites, some decomposing and showing the Sulphur and empty holes.

The left hand figure much resembles Gum Anime in the common outward aspect, except that it appears to take a more perfect polish. It, however, has all the characters of Amber, and encloses about the middle an insect of the Hymenopterous Class, probably of the Genus Sphex; but it seems a species not known at present. I prize this more than ordinary, as I have good reason to suppose it came from the Lowestoft coast. It contains also some drops of liquid, which I suppose have not been before observed in Amber—See the lower corner towards the right hand.

The specimen is full of flaws and cracks, and holds much of a dirty-looking substance, rather of a carbonaceous appearance.

I have not seen British Amber so large, and free from what is commonly called foul, or cracks, as the foreign; but the present specimens pretty well include all the usual colours of Amber. All the fine and clear specimens that fall into the hands of the dealers are sure to be deprived of their coat, as this has been, or to be cut into some fanciful form so as to make them more saleable.

Amber is sometimes of considerable size. I have seen a fragment measuring fourteen inches and a half in girth lengthwise, by seven inches and a half in girth the shortest way. It weighed nine ounces and a quarter. It is however said that there was in the possession of the Grand Duke of Tuscany a column of Amber of ten feet in height. It is said to have been well known to the Arabians, who called it Ambra, and to the Greeks, who called it Ήλεκτςου.

Plato and Aristotle recommended it for many virtues, and Thales observed that it attracted light bodies, 600 years before the Christian æra. It was in high esteem as a luxury among the Romans.

Since writing the above, I have been favoured by Lord Dundas with references to those best informed respecting the coast and rocks at Whitby, especially the Rev. Joseph Harrison, who gives us every reason to believe that Amber is seldom or never found on the shores or cliffs near Whitby, although they produce the substance usually found near it, viz. Jet, which has been known there for many years. Indeed it would appear that Dr. Woodward was imposed upon.

It is not a little curious that the Fat or Opaque Amber may often be made transparent by being boiled in olive oil; but in most instances it thereby acquires flaws that have been compared to fishes’ scales entrapped in the same manner as insects.

  • * In the Encyclopædia Britannica it is questioned whether this gold or silver may not be Marcasite, and the Iron is mentioned as being sometimes in the state of Vitriol. The glistening appearance of the flaws may often mislead.
  • † Some may be led to suppose from reading in Ezekiel i. 4, and 27, and viii. 2, “as the colour of Amber,” that this substance was known to the Hebrews in the time of the Prophet; but on further investigation it will appear hardly safe to found such an opinion upon the received English Version. Junius and Tremellius render the passage “tanquam color vividissimus:” and Dr. John Taylor in his Hebrew Concordance has חשמל, which occurs only in the above-cited three passages, pruna ignita. The LXX have ὥς ὅρασις ἠλέκτρȣ, and the Vulgate “quasi species electri;” but ἤλέκτρον, electrum, here doubtless signifies, as it often does, an alloy of gold and silver, and not Amber. And the account given in the Synopsis Criticorum of the word חשמל, chasmal, is probably right. It is supposed that Ezekiel borrowed the word from the Chaldee, in which dialect it signified a brilliant alloy, mixed not of gold and silver, but of gold and brass, being the χαλκοχρὑσιου, or χαλκὀς χρυσοειδἠς of Diodorus, and that it is composed of the Chaldee words שחנ, nachas brass (the נ being dropt as in other analogous instances), and ללמ, אללמ malal, gold. Some commentators, desirous of extracting all the meaning they can out of a word, have maintained that the Prophet selected this substance, as expressive of the union of the divine and human nature in Christ

    Amber having been first found on the shores of the Baltic, Skinner is of opinion that the Arabs were indebted for their name Ambra or Anbar, as well as for the substance itself, to the Teutonic nations. In Dutch Aen-bern is to burn up, and Aen-bern-steen, lapis ustilis, the combustible stone. Bern-steen is still its name in Holland. It appears from Tacitus (De Mor. Germ.) that the ancient Germans called it Glæs, which is probably the same word with our Glass.

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