Trash or Treasure?

The allure of alabaster


Alabaster has been a desired stone by sculptors and architects for centuries. In addition to its beautiful color and translucency, it is easy to carve and polish. Veins of color and the natural outlines of the crystals add to its beauty.

Alabaster gets its name from a village called “Alabastron” which is located near the city of Thebes in Egypt but is found in many parts of the world. This is where this beautiful translucent stone was first mined. Alabaster can be calcite or gypsum but the name is now given to any light colored translucent stone composed of gypsum. Gypsum is basically salt crystals that are formed from lakes and ponds which experience intense evaporation. After years of sediments build on these crystals on the lake bottoms, they condense and harden to form alabaster.

Alabaster is beautiful but does have its faults. It can stain easily from anything containing iron, will begin to decompose at 122 degrees and is water soluble. This is not an option for any hot, humid climate.

There are thousands of different objects which have been made of alabaster but the most familiar are sconce shades, lamp bases, and statues. Alabaster lamps and statues were very popular in the Victorian period. You can find them in decorator shops, antique stores and at auctions. Statues and busts are not trendy right now and you can buy some beauties for a couple hundred dollars. Lamps can sell for as little as $20 to several thousand depending on size, maker and style.

Karen Waterman is a fine art, antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions regarding your “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending an email with a question you give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos preferred ) to


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.