Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A lifetime's ambition realised! (I think)

Well, ever since I was a little boy mooching about Thorpeness on annual holidays, I have always searched to try and find a piece of amber on the beach. It became almost an obsession at times. Often I or one of my brothers would find a tiny little something we thought might be amber but never had it confirmed.

All amber originates from the Baltic but very occasionally pieces get washed up on certain areas of the East coast, one of which is the stretch between Thorpeness and Sizewell. Because it's light and buoyant it can travel all the way here on the tides. It's incredibly rare though. I always remember gazing through the window of the Amber Shop in Aldeburgh at the treasure within. Polished and made into jewelry or just raw lumps on display, I dreamed of finding a good sized piece for myself.
More recently, as I spend about 2 hours on the beach every day walking the dogs, I often pick up bits and pieces I think might have possibilities but so far all have failed the simple tests you can do at home.

There is a man, a fellow GSD owner I meet often who does the same thing (with the same results) Whenever our paths cross the first thing he says to me in his broad Suffolk accent is "....found any yet?..."

I've been toying with the idea of buying a piece and then, while we're passing the time of day, reaching down and pretending to pick it up from right under his nose. I reckon after repeating this a few times I could really wind him up! (a wicked bugger I am)

Anyway, this afternoon as usual I was walking the dogs along the beach and just happened to be on the afore mentioned stretch on my way to Thorpeness. We've had some really rough seas the last couple of days and it's said after stormy weather is the best time to find any amber. I'm always looking for bits of sea glass too (you know those sand and sea worn pieces that have been abraded until they look like sugared sweets) as I have a friend who makes jewelry from it. So I guess my eyes are attuned to pick up on anything of interest in among the shingle as I walk along. I just happened to call Leon over to put him on his lead as some other dogs were approaching and he'd be off and gone if I let him. For once he came straight over and as I bent down to clip him on, something caught my eye lying on top of the shingle.

As soon as I picked it up I knew it was what I had been searching for all of my life. It was light in weight, seemingly warm to the touch, a beautiful colour. There were even obvious inclusions, two of which are obviously leaf matter and one deeper in side needs further investigation (I'd love it to be an insect). Not only all that, it wasn't a little chip either. This piece measures 4cm x 3.5cm x 2.5cm, a whopper!

Not wanting to get my hopes up too high, when I got home I researched online the tests I could do at home to verify it.

Firstly I gave it a good wash in soapy water, then in clean water. This meant I could carry out the first test....taste. No real taste, perhaps just a hint of something but not unpleasant as it would be with plastic.

Next the static test. This is the simplest and safest test. Amber is warm to the touch and when rubbed, it will become electrostatically charged and will attract lint/dust particles. This is what the ancient Greeks discovered and named it "electron", which is where we get the term "electricity".I found I could even pick up a small piece of paper after rubbing it on my jumper.

Next the solvent test. The immature resin copal, and plastic fake amber will deteriorate when in contact with a solvent. Plastics are quickly attacked by alcohol (95% ethyl alcohol), acetone (100%), and ether. A few drops of acetone (fingernail polish remover) or alcohol dripped over the surface of the piece will reveal if it holds up to the solvent. If the surface becomes tacky, it's not amber. Amber will not feel tacky or dissolve under these solvents.I used nail polish remover....no problem!

Next the heat test. Amber when heated will produce a whitish smoke and smell like burning pine wood, sweet and pleasant. This is why amber has been used by ancient civilizations as incense for many centuries. Amber is identified from plastic imitations with a hot point test (hot needle held with tweezers). When the hot point touches the suspected amber in an unobtrusive place, the material will burn and give off a pleasant pine odour.Passed again!

There is a buoyancy test I could do but I'm pretty certain what I've got is a proper piece of amber. I'll take it in somewhere and have it professionally confirmed sometime but for now I'm convinced!

So, I've had a lucky day I reckon, starting with a good sale this morning from the Affordable British Art gallery of my painting "The Longshot" ..................
.............and now I've found treasure!


Paula said...

So very,very cool!My quest was always a fossil ...found a few but never the ultimate result :/

Ingrid Ormestad said...

Really pleased for you on both counts, Peter. I can imagine your joy as I look up at the shelf next to me with all my beach-combing finds. I have always had a love of Amber also, didn't realise though it could be found on a beach. I found copper ore whilst walking in the Ochils a few years ago. A beautiful combination of Burnt Sienna and Cerulean Blue. Enjoy your little treasure Peter, and congratulations on the sale of your super painting. :)

Lorna S said...

Very jealous! Well found :o)

Aitch said...

Oh wow, I like amber, too - well discovered, how lucky. Congratulations on the sale, too.