Examination of contemporary beads with African provenance reveals large quantities of imitation amber beads made of phenol-formaldehyde thermosetting resins (PFs). This article delves into the early industrial history of PFs and their use in the production of imitation amber and bead materials. Attempts to discover actual sources that manufactured imitation amber beads for export to Africa and the time frame have not been very fruitful. While evidence exists that PFs were widely used as amber substitutes within Europe, only a few post-WWII references explicitly report the export of imitation amber PF beads to Africa. However they arrived in Africa, the durability of PF beads gave African beadworkers aesthetic freedom not only to rework the original beads into a variety of shapes and sizes, and impart decorative elements, but also to apply heat treatment to modify colors. Some relatively simple tests to distinguish PFs from other bead materials are presented.
The Society of Bead Researchers is a non-profit scientific-educational corporation founded in 1981 to foster historical, archaeological, and material cultural research on beads and beadwork of all materials and periods, and to expedite the dissemination of the resultant knowledge. Membership is open to all persons involved in the study of beads, as well as those interested in keeping abreast of current trends in bead research.
"Imitation Amber Beads of Phenolic Resin from the African Trade."
BEADS: Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers
28: 3-15. Available at: