Yellow amber is not found except on a particular coast of Ducal Prussia, in the Baltic Sea,1
where the sea during certain winds throws it from time to time on the
sand. The Elector of Brandenburg, who is the proprietor of it, farms
out all this coast for from 18,000 to 20,000 ecus a year, and sometimes
up to 22,000 ecus ; and the farmers employ watchmen, who traverse the
length of the shore, the sea throwing the amber sometimes on one side
and sometimes on the other, so that no one can steal it; and whoever
ventures to do so receives corporal chastisement.
is nothing more than a congelation of a species of gum which forms in
the sea. This experience sufficiently proves, because numerous pieces
are to be seen which contain flies and other insects congealed in them.2 I have had many such pieces, and one, among others, which had four or five small flies inside it.
I have made a remark about coral in reference to Japan, I shall make
another about amber in reference to China. It is a custom among the
Chinese that when any great noble gives a feast, his reputation for
grandeur and magnificence depends upon his having brought in, at the
close of the repast, three or four perfume-pans and his having thrown
into each of them a large quantity of amber, sometimes to the value of
1,000 ecus and upwards, in consideration of the fact that the more he
burns, and the larger the pieces, the more magnificent is the
entertainment regarded, for a piece weighing one livre is worth 200 to
300 ecus.3 They use amber for this purpose because they
adore fire, and because amber, thrown in the fire, yields a certain
odour which is not unpleasing to the Chinese ; as it contains a kind of
oil it gives out a flame
1 The source of amber in Upper Burma in the Hukung valley was not known to Tavernier. (See Economic Geology of India, p. 57 j Watt, Economic Products, 64; Scott & Hardiman, Gazetteer, Part i, vol. ii. 289 ff. for a description of the mines there.)
Tavernier had therefore an approximately correct idea as to the true
nature and origin of amber as a fossilized vegetable production.
i. e. £45 to £67 10s. per livre. This use of amber has not been traced
in modern authorities, but that of incense sticks is common (J. D.
Ball, Things Chinese, 4th ed., pp. 64, 74, 551, 553, 643; Hastings, Ency. Religion and Ethics, vii. 204 f.).