By Rebecca Ruger
Amber, as a gemstone, is basically fossilized tree sap, or resin, and provides the origin of the color name. Amber as a color refers to an orangish brown color, located on the color wheel between gold and orange. In glassmaking, amber refers usually to the brown family of glass, while honey amber will precisely define the lighter orange tone of brown glass.
Glassmaking in the 1st century Roman Empire was time consuming and expensive, but it was catching on. While there was at this time no Latin equivalent for the word "glass," glassblowing had just been invented as a technique, increasing production and minimizing the finishing process of glass making. Back then, the Romans (and other very early glass makers) used natron with the sand and lime to create glass. Natron is a naturally occurring combination of soda ash and what we know as baking soda and was much later replaced with sodium carbonate as a glassmaking ingredient. Archaeological evidence tells us that shades of amber were used quite regularly during this time.
Present day amber glass, and that made in the past few centuries, is another color produced mostly by impurities in the sand used, specifically the iron. However, some additives are employed, specifically sulfur, together with carbon and iron salts, which produces amber glass ranging from yellowish to almost black. Lesser amounts of the additive will result in a lighter tone of amber. When carbon is used as part of the coloring agent, it might be added in the form of coal, charcoal, of even wood chips. And, as with most colors of glass, descriptive variations are expected: yellow amber, golden amber, reddish amber, etc.
Amber glass was used most often as beer bottles, as you may know, the darker color keeping the beer safe from UV light and rays. Honey amber, on the other hand, was a popular color after the Civil War in the States, when many pressed glass pieces were made. In 1865, Louis Comfort Tiffany traveled to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and was inspired by their collection of ancient Roman glass; in turn, many of the Tiffany glass designs incorporated honey amber and other ambers in their designs.
In the early 20th century, much Depression glass and less expensive dinnerware was made in honey amber. Fruit jars as well, were often made in shades of amber. In the 1930s, Fenton Glass debuted its Hobnail pattern, and produced millions of pieces in honey amber.
Honey amber sea glass in your collection may may appear light to dark, depending upon age, impurities and original composition.