Ambergris is the stuff that a perfumers dreams are made of. I have been getting all kind of odd pieces to evaluate as ambergris but up till now none have been ambergris, just sea sponges, soap and odd pieces of petroleum by-product.
Of course I knew that Africa has been trading in ambergris since ancient times but I have never came across any from Africa. You can imagine the excitement between Aseyah Rosslind, colleague and dear friend, and I, when this wonderful piece arrived from the shores of Africa into our possession. We have not had much sleep this past few days.
As early as the 3rd/9th centuary Ibn Kharradadhbih mentions ambergris among Aden’s exports. The port of Aden’s convenient position on the sea route between India and Europe has made Aden desirable to rulers who sought to possess it at various times throughout history. Known as Arabian Eudaemon in the 1st century BCE, Ibn Madjid includes anbar among Socrota’s isharat, or signs – that is the characteristic features of a particular maritime area; the knowledge of which serves a mariner in determining the presence of ambergris in the area of a long reef stretching from Socrota towards Madagascar “for anber is not seen or found on any coast, except this place.” From this period also comes a the story of how the aromatic properties of ambergris were discovered. According to legend, a fisherman caught some in his fishing net, took it home and burned it as fuel under his cooking pot when he was out of firewood. (Ref) What a fragrant fire that must have been!
I had a really great birthday while evaluating it with Aseyah and Jerome. The big moment came when we had to cut the piece open to see what was inside the white and mossy outer layer. As it is still fresh from the sea it still has a strong marine scent but when you rub some of the grains between the warmth of your fingers the true scent emerges; musky ambergris.