( Fr- charbon; Ger- Kohle; Nor- kull; Rus- )

COAL (See also JET entry.)

A. Coal. "Koal" cuff links and ear rings (label indicates scale) from West Virginia.  R.V. and F.S. Dietrich collection. (photo by Dick Dietrich)

B. Cannel coal carved plaque (height - ca.19 cm). C.T Holland collection. (photo by Dick Dietrich)

C. Coal carving by an unknown artist, probably from southeastern Kentucky.  (photo courtesy of --

DESCRIPTION: The nomenclature widely accepted for diverse coals is based primarily on fixed carbon and ash contents and whether the given coal will or will not coke. The following properties are oversimplified.
    Color - black
    H. 2-2½
    S.G. 1.15-1.51
    Light transmission - opaque
    Luster - dull to vitreous to submetallic
    Breakage -
blocky (some bituminous); choncoidal (some anthracite); subconchoidal (some cannel coal); etc.
Miscellaneous - additional characteristics follow some of the names under the next subheading.

Although some coal strata (i.e.,seams or beds) have been given formal stratigraphic names (see Appendix B, Glossary), most are considered only members of larger units so their designations differ from those of most stratigraphic units in two ways: The word coal is not capitalized and the names are frequently indicated to be "(informal)."  Furthermore, the coal part of the term is frequently followed by the word member, seam or bed. Two examples are the Freeport coal (informal) of Pennsylvania and the Black Butte coal bed (informal) of the Green River basin of Wyoming.

USES: The traditional giving of a piece coal as a New Year's gift -- to assure a warm hearth during the next year -- aside:  In a response to a question about "early Inuit cultures in  Alaska . . . (use of) coal, " archaeologist Stephen Loring notes that "Native Alaskans fashoined coal into labrets, or lip ornaments. . ." (Sithsonian 1 Feb. 2013, p. 94). Anthracite and bituminous coal have been fashioned by coal miners the world over, for the most part as a hobby but also for sale (as a way to make a little extra money).  Several articles including cups and saucers, stones for jewelry (including cameos), paperweights and replicas of miners' boots as well as the so-called "traditional coal sculptures" (animals, eagles, etc.) made by  Vietnamese artisans grace the cases of collectors and museums.   Cannel coal has been carved into such diverse things as snuff bottles and wall plaques.  "Koal" articles, such as those shown in Figure A, are sold as souvenirs in West Virginia.   Some cloisonné consists largely of compressed  and indurated coal (dust?).   I suspect that some of the jet pieces -- e.g., the mourning jewelry of the Victorian era -- were made from some coal rather than jet, which is lignite, a precursor of coal.

OCCURRENCES: As beds or seams -- i.e., strata and lenses -- in sedimentary sequences.

NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES: Diverse coals from Pennsylvania (e.g., anthracite from mines in the vicinity of Wilkes Barre, Lucerne County) and eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and West Virginia have been used as noted under the USES subheading.

REMARKS:  Etymology of  the word coal is complicated and sources I have read indicate it unlikely that any consensus will ever be reached so far as discovering its true roots.  Consequently, it seems best not even to try to summarize possibilities here.  Anyone really interested might start by reading the account in the Oxford English Dictionary, athough I hasten to add that for me that account led to more questions than answers.   . 

 In any case, coal has little history so far as its use as a gemrock.  Instead, its place in history, which is long and multifaceted, is based primarily on its use as a fuel.  Nonetheless, artifacts (dated 1-1100 A.D) from the Uyak and Old Karluk archaeological sites on Kodiak Island, and now in the Alutiig Museum, Koniag, Inc. and Larsen Bay collections, include a highly polished labret and nose ring that are recorded as fashioned from coal ( --  however, being sceptical,  I would have to examine these pieces before reporting this use as proved;  this is so because photographs of the pieces closely resemble polished hematite.

Be my just stated suspicion well-founded or not, coal carvings such as those alluded to under the USES subheading have been fashioned in many places around the world.  I have seen examples and convincing photographs as well as well-documented records of such carvings from England (Nottinghamshire), Poland, Wales, and Vietnam and from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia in the United States.

A particularly remarkable piece, carved  from a single piece of anthracite carved by Charles Harold Harner ([aka. Horner],1873-1967) during the mid 1930s, depicts several aspects of  the early days of anthracite coal mining in Trevorton, Pennsylvania with great detail .  This carving, which is "table-top size,"  includes such things as the mine opening, a loaded mine car being pulled by a mule, a train on tracks of the Susquehanna Railroad, and a lock on the Pennsylvania Canal whereby barges transported the coal to Harrisburg.   Additional carvings of anthracite coal by Harner, are in George Walaitis' museum in Frackville, Pennsylvania -- e.g., replicas of "the state capitol building [that] took five years to complete" and "the Nurthumberland County courthouse at Sunbury [that] took 3 1/2 years to complete."   In the article listing these pieces, it also is noted that "Harner's trademark was that all of the carvings were made from a single piece of anthracite patiently shaped with varying sizes of pen knives, a hack saw blade and buffed with steel wool or sandpaper."  (Kraus, 1989).

Fine examples of sculpted coal are in The Anthracite Heritage Museum & Iron Furnaces of Scranton, Pennsylvania where several pieces by C. Edgar Patience are displayed.  He, by the way, is the one who sculpted the two-ton anthracite altar in Wilkes-Barre's King's College chapel and whose works have been displayed in such places as the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In addition,  some fine carvings made by local miners are also in the museum. 

Another intriguing item made from Pennsylvania anthracite is the replica of a beer bottle, dated 1962, the year of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Kaier's Brewery of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.  As shown on the internet site ~kaiersbrewery  this highly  polished "bottle" has the letters, "Kaier's Mascot" (also highly polihsed) standing in relief within a regularly pockmarked, oval shaped area.

Coal (though not as a gemrock) is the state rock of Kentucky(?), Utah and West Virginia(?).


Coal dust plus resin - Some curios -- e.g., candles and statuettes -- have been molded, carved or sculpted from this material. - [Texture is recognizably different from that of any coal.].

REFERENCES: No general reference. Stutzer, 1940.

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