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A Curious Case of Recycling

Russ Nobbs of Rings & Things sent me an email asking whether I had seen what some Africans (we haven't figured out exactly who) were doing to broken "red feather" beads. I hadn't, so he sent me a strand, for which I am now thanking him publicly.

The strand has 35 beads

These are Venetian lamp-wound glass trade beads with a red base and a combed decoration, commonly called "feather." They are 100 or so years old and quite popular. They tend to break easily. Someone has figured out a way to recycle the broken pieces. To the remaining bead, a material is attached and then (rather clumsily) painted to resemble the feather design.

 Close-up of one of the beads. The right-hand side is glass; the left something else.

I had several questions: 1.) What was the material used to recycle these beads? and 2.) How many beads were involved?

I still don't know what the material is. I ran it through some tests in the Beck Lab. It is apparently a sort of resin, but it is pretty indestructible.

It is relatively hard, equal to or slightly more than 5 on the Mohs scale. It is tough. It contains fibers visible under a microscope, perhaps to strengthen it. A hot point melts it only where it touches. When burned, it only chars, giving off a little smoke with a strong carbon odor.
It does not fluoresce. It had not dissolved in acetone after more than 24 hours.

As for the number of beads involved, the strand of 35 could conceivably have been made from 20 original beads. In 14 cases more than half the glass bead was there, and in six cases much more than half. On the other hand, in 11 cases less than half the bead was there.

In four cases only a tiny middle section of the bead was there, surrounded on both sides by the resinous material. Clever, no?


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