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Copal vs. Amber


#1

Copal amber and Baltic amber are considered two different things
because they come from different plant sources (from different areas
of the world) and they have different degrees of polymerization.

Andrew suggested that “Copal is at most some hundreds of years old,
as opposed to amber which is millions of years old.” This is not
really true. Copal often is some 500,000 to 1,500,000 years old or
more.

Both Copal and Baltic can exhibit a certain “gummy-ness” when
carved. You have to be careful how much heat from friction that you
create if you choose to try power tools; it is possible to discolor
and/or burn the amber with too much heat. Hand tools work well.

As a low cost material, Copal amber is a pretty altenative to the
much more expensive Baltic amber. (Always remember to disclose that
it is Copal amber to whomever purchases your pieces; that keeps
everyone happy.)

–Terri


#2
    Always remember to disclose that it is Copal amber to whomever
purchases your pieces; that keeps everyone happy. 

As long as we’re practicing disclosure, please understand that Copal
"Amber" is a misnomer. Copal is not Amber, and should not be used
along with the word Amber. It is either Copal or Amber.

James in SoFl


#3

Some basic on amber can be found at
http://home.t-online.de/home/Arnold-Heide/lexicon.htm and
http://www.gemsociety.org/info/gems/Amber.htm - There is more
out there. A word of caution, some people have a vested
interest, so be skeptical, much like natural turquoise is so hard to
find, not really, they just don’t want to pay for it and so invent a
rationalization, a “story” actually. Sad to say this sometimes
applies to other tings as well. Dominican amber is a case in point,
there is amber deposits but much larger copal deposits, non
processed stones are most likely copal, as by law they are not to be
exported.

Best acetone test: Place one drop on the surface of the test piece
and allow it to evaporate, then place a second drop on the same
area. Copal will become tacky; amber will remain unaffected by
contact with acetone.

Alcohol testing is said by some to be biased as you may get a false
result on non-Baltic amber, such as Lebanon, Burma, Dominican, and
Sicilian, New Jersey, etc., etc., etc. Other types came from
different trees and is not the same chemically, so this may not be
a good test, unless it is said to be Baltic.

As for Colombian, there is material from Santander, this has some
non-copal qualities. However this is not accepted as amber and doesn
92t meet all qualifications. To sell it as amber could cause
problems, at least if you ever wanted to be taken seriously as a
professional, the stuff is great for wire wrapping, just tell them
what it is. I do not sell any or have I, nor do I think I will, but
I wonder if Santander should be differentiated to set it apart from
other copal. To those who repeat that (all) Colombian copal is only
a few hundred to (at most) a few thousand years old, this is taken
from someone who it is said never tested the Santander material. In
any event according to Geologists the deposits were laid down
between 1 and 2 million years ago, and some perhaps 3, I will
believe them on this, as they have no interest.

I will use excerpts from Identifying True Amber. “In some cases
copal, which is tree resin which has not yet fully fossilized to
amber and may be anything up 3-4 million years” 85. “Debate still
rages in the UK about certain Kenyan deposits as to whether they
should be called copal or amber and I have heard of similar
arguments concerning deposits found in South America.” (This last
is a reference to the Santander material mentioned above.)

This last is interesting; there exists copal old enough to be amber.
But is not. We do not yet know just what turns copal to amber, some
have suggested some conditions but we really do not know. Do you
know that some copal (a small amount) comes from the Baltic? We are
all told that green shades of turquoise have iron, this is true.
However Persian turquoise often used as the standard has a higher
iron trace than others, and this is obviously blue, so we still do
not know everything.

I read on this list a suggestion that you could tell amber from
copal as it is darker. This is wrong. Below is from a cutting hose,
realize that this has been going on since the ice age. And although
this is treated the same thing happens naturally, spangles (blitz)
occur naturally, but it is almost certain to have been man induced,
as is much of the “amber” coloring. I have seen a photo taken in
the 60s of Bitterfield amber in large piles stored outside in the
sun over time to “cure” it, this dose some of the same.

“Most of the natural rough stones are milky, pale or translucent but
very light yellow. To match the taste and the requirement of the
consumers, a very special technique of heat treatment for these
stones has been developed, whereas each company, working with these
fine stones, keeps their developed technique as a secret part of
know-how for themselves. Just by heating these stones (at low
temperature), the following general changes will appear: If heat
and air (as in a regular stove is the case) is supplied to the
stones, the material will clear up and darken. If stones are heated
under vacuum (i.e. by an autoclave), stones will clear but not
changing their color to a darker shade. By special techniques, heat
may cause the “Glitter” to appear inside of the stone. Properties
of the gem do not change at all, so that such a heat treatment to
Amber may never be proofed and the stone still to be considered as
natural Amber.”

(Natural conditions can also cause the same changes; no test can
differentiate the two. Archeologists have found evidence of people
treating amber some 14,000 years ago.)


#4
Some basic on amber can be found at
http://home.t-online.de/home/Arnold-Heide/lexicon.htm and
http://www.gemsociety.org/info/gems/Amber.htm - There is more
out there. A word of caution, some people have a
vested interest, so be skeptical, much like natural turquoise is so
hard to find, not really, they just don't want to pay for it and so
invent a rationalization, a "story" actually. Sad to say this
sometimes applies  to other tings as well. 

It sounds like you’ve been listening to some of these folks, Jake.

Alcohol testing is said by some to be biased as you may get a
false result on non-Baltic amber, such as Lebanon, Burma,
Dominican, and Sicilian, New Jersey, etc., etc., etc. Other types
came from different  trees and is not the same chemically, so this
may not be a good test,  unless it is said to be Baltic. 

I don’t believe any amber is affected by alcohol. Ether, which is
also sometimes recommended for testing purposes, is another matter.

As for Colombian, there is material from Santander, this has some
non-copal qualities. 

What qualities are these?

However this is not accepted as amber and doesn't  meet all
qualifications. To sell it as amber could cause problems, at  least
if you ever wanted to be taken seriously as a professional, the 
stuff is great for wire wrapping, just tell them what it is. I do
not  sell any or have I, nor do I think I will, but I wonder if
Santander  should be differentiated to set it apart from other
copal. To those who  repeat that (all) Colombian copal is only a
few hundred to (at most) a  few thousand years old, this is taken
from someone who it is said never  tested the Santander material.
In any event according to Geologists the  deposits were laid down
between 1 and 2 million years ago, and some  perhaps 3, I will
believe them on this, as they have no interest. 

Who is it that said this about which geologists? Dr. George Poinar
has looked into the subject rather deeply, and in his book “Life in
Amber” states flatly that if it’s Colombian, it’s not amber. Here’s a
quote from Platt’s site on the Santander material:

“Significant copal deposits exist in Columbia, South America in the
Santander province. This material is less than 1000 years old.”

And from the other site I mentioned:

"Dr. David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History in New
York City states …‘As for Colombian copal, it’s all several
hundreds of years old, according to C-14 analyses that I have done on
several different samples…’ "

If you want some more confirmation of this, see this article in the
Rockhounds list:
http://lists.drizzle.com/pipermail/rockhounds/2003-January/002524.html

I will use excerpts from Identifying True Amber. "In some cases
copal,  which is tree resin which has not yet fully fossilized to
amber and may  be anything up 3-4 million years" 

The source you cite above (Arnold Heide) is more conservative on
the age of copal:

“Copal: Copal is the name assigned to resins that have not yet
completely changed to amber. They are concentrated in the estuaries
of tropical rivers (e.g. Africa). They are geologically younger than
amber, at the most some ten thousand years old, and may contain many
inclusions.”

Who wrote “Identifying True Amber”?

 Debate still rages in the UK  about certain Kenyan deposits as to
whether they should be called copal  or amber and I have heard of
similar arguments concerning deposits found  in South America."
(This last is a reference to the Santander material  mentioned
above.) This last is interesting; there exists copal old enough to
be amber. But is not. We do not yet know just what turns copal to
amber, some have suggested some conditions but we really do not
know. Do you know that some copal (a small amount) comes from the
Baltic? 

I didn’t know that. Where did you hear about it - Ebay? That’s the
only place a Google search for “Baltic copal” led to. Here’s a
typically confused listing:

ebay link removed

The seller affirms that these beads are “Baltic copal” even though
they were bought in Greece and were said to come from Turkey.
(Baltic, Balkan, what’s the difference?) Ebay is a great place to
find copal (or who-knows-what) misrepresented as amber and sold with
liberal servings of dis

 I read on this list a suggestion that you could tell amber from
copal as  it is darker. This is wrong. Below is from a cutting
hose, realize that  this has been going on since the ice age. And
although this is treated  the same thing happens naturally,
spangles (blitz) occur naturally, but  it is almost certain to have
been man induced, as is much of the "amber"  coloring. I have seen
a photo taken in the 60s of Bitterfield amber in  large piles
stored outside in the sun over time to "cure" it, this dose  some
of the same. 

Most jewelry professionals recognize the characteristic round “sun
spangle” fractures as typical of Baltic amber, originally cloudy from
minute air bubbles, that has been cooked to transparency. These are
not generally considered desirable, but are tolerated in low-end
product. If you found “special techniques” to avoid them, this would
be a valuable discovery…

Andrew Werby
www.unitedartworks.com


#5

Hi all,

Just returned from an entomological society meeting in Salt Lake to
discover the hubbub I’d caused with my post about copal, in which I
called it “copal amber”…

     Calling it "copal amber" as you do above, or "new amber",
like the site you  mentioned, just confuses people in my opinion. 

Consider me one of the confused, I guess. I was aware of the major
difference between copal and true amber, i.e. that copal is recent
while amber is fossilized. (My husband has done extensive work on
insects preserved in amber and had mentioned this to me when I
noticed the difference in prices in the past.) I have never worked
with it and just thought it might be a cheap, pretty carving
material.

This all left me wondering, though–if copal is essentially useless,
why is it so ubiquitous?

Jessee Smith
www.silverspotstudio.com


#6
    Consider me one of the confused, I guess. I have never worked
with it and just thought it might be a cheap, pretty carving
material. 
    This all left me wondering, though--if copal is essentially
useless, why is it so ubiquitous? 

Hi Jessee. Although you didn’t respond to my particular post, maybe
I can help clear up some of your confusion. I don’t consider Copal
to be essentially useless It is indeed cheap, pretty carving
material, and that is likely the reason you see it often. But it
isn’t Amber, and selling it as “Copal Amber” as presented in a
previous post is wrong.

Maybe it would help to think of it this way: (folks, this is a
simplification, not a scientific parallel) Referring to Copal as
"Copal Amber" is similar to referring to Pink Sapphire as “Pink
Ruby.” Or Red Beryl as “Red Emerald.” Ruby must be Red, Emerald must
be Green. Amber must be Amber, and Copal doesn’t qualify. By all
means, carve this cheap, pretty material - just don’t call it “Copal
Amber.”

James in SoFl


#7

Hi Andrew – You take your resinous materials very, very seriously.

    Andrew suggested that "Copal is at most some hundreds of years
old, as opposed to amber which is millions of years old."  This is
not really true.  Copal often is some 500,000 to 1,500,000 years
old or more. 
Often? Have you got any authority for that?

Here’s just one example (from a site which you approve, since you
cited it yourself – possibly you just didn’t read the whole
thing?):

“Copal has been referred to as a subfossil resin, semi-fossilized
resin, an immature amber, and as a fresh, gum form of resin. Experts
vary in their assessment of the age of copal, from 50 years to 1.6
million years, based on the geologic settings in which it is found
and other evidence, both chemical and botanical.” –
http://www.emporia.edu/earthsci/amber/copal.htm

There are numerous citations in books and on the internet from both
educational institutions and commercial dealers who agree with this
range of dating, though I’ve read others which extend the dates to
earlier times as well.

Yes, it's possible to create a heat-affected zone in amber,
especially if you use power tools too enthusiastically, but it
won't turn to goo like copal will.

Andrew, if you are turning your Copal to “goo”, are you sure you
know how to work it properly? I’ve never had that problem.

    As a low cost material, Copal amber is a pretty altenative to
the much more expensive Baltic amber.
Maybe for a while. But due to its greater volatility, it has a
much more pronounced tendency to craze in the presence of oxygen,
heat and UV exposure, making it a poor choice for jewelry
purposes.

It can craze or chip, just as Baltic amber can. Many materials that
we use in jewelry are fragile in nature in some way or other, like
emeralds, opals, or white gold (or in “modern” jewelry, feathers or
paper). With any reasonable care a copal amber piece can last a
very long time. It has existed in nature “from 50 years to 1.6
million years” (see above quote), so it should outlast even a short
human lifetime, if cared for properly.

    (Always remember to disclose that it is Copal amber to
whomever purchases your pieces; that keeps everyone happy.) 
Don't tell them it's any kind of amber - unless you're the sort of
person who sells graphite as "young diamond" ..."

No, Andrew, I’m the sort of person who likes to be as truthful as
possible.

Distinguishing between copal and amber is a contentious issue
amongst members of the amber community. There is no scaling system
for assessing polymerisation against age. This is because too many
external factors affect the rate of molecular linking and
consequently a variable rate does not lend its self to a linear
time assessment system. Because of this the nomenclature of resin,
copal and amber is not an absolute science yet." 

Andrew, I’m happy for you that you research subjects that interest
you. And semantics are a wonderful thing to deconstruct when they
can bring clarity and understanding to a difficult issue. The
problem is that the Experts are still disagreeing over this – so
unless you consider yourself the difinitive authority on the
resinous fossil issue, you need to give it a rest.

–Terri


#8

most important to a carver, is the hardness between the two
similiar, or the same? was mentioned that copal was tool heated to
melting point, in that case, you might need less flutes on your flex
shaft cutters, mill cut burs at slower speeds, wax burs, single flute
drills, dp


#9

The citation for this quote was left off when it was distributed via
the digest:

    Distinguishing between copal and amber is a contentious issue
amongst members of the amber community. There is no scaling system
for assessing polymerisation against age. This is because too many
external factors affect the rate of molecular linking and
consequently a variable rate does not lend its self to a linear
time assessment system. Because of this the nomenclature of resin,
copal and amber is not an absolute science yet." 

It came from http://www.gplatt.demon.co.uk/typesof.htm

–Terri