It was indeed cannel coal which was used for carving and turning during
the 19th century and later. The techniques used were similar to those for
alabaster working, and the raw material had to be carefully selected for
soundness, and type of fracture, if success was to be guaranteed.
Jet is another distinct member of the coal family of minerals, and its
occurrence in the UK is essentially limited to the Whitby area, although
it was also imported from Turkey. It is even easier to carve and polish,
but its scarcity and the relatively small size of most pieces of the raw
material virtually limited its use to mourning jewellery.
An interesting web page on cannel and related materials, and early
carvings, can be found at:
----- Original Message -----
From: Jon Whiting <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, July 20, 2002 2:42 PM
Subject: Coal carving
> I realise that this is not strictly Industrial Archaeology, but the
> following letter recently appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle (19/7/2002)
> "I attended Cannon Hall on Sunday along with thousands of others. I was
> my grandchildren and came across a stall selling models made with coal.
> I was explaining to the kids how my dad actually knew someone who carved
> figures from coal and, as a youngster, I was taken to see them.
> Immediately, the stallholder chipped in that all coal models were made
> coal dust which is poured into moulds much like concrete and anyone
> to have carved models was a liar as it is impossible to carve because of
> I tried to explain that the coal was a special type (I believe it was
> Kennel Coal) but he was having nothing of it. If I am wrong then I
> to the stallholder, but if I am right I think he needs to study the
> of this area before scorning it."
> I have seen 'carved coal figures' elsewhere, including the Yorkshire
> Museum, and believe that coal can be carved, but most items sold
> Can anyone give further details, especially about the type of coal that
> be carved.