From: Hidden Beauty Gallery 

 

================== Ivory=================

So...you've inherited a piece of ivory or you found one in a flea market - how much is it

worth? Is it the real thing? True ivory is from the tusk of an elephant, actually, their upper

incisors or teeth - the highest quality tusks come from Africa. Ivory is a yellowish, creamy

white color which over a long period of time will turn caramel or brown (this can be faked

by unscrupulous dealers by steeping in strong tea). Ivory has been used for centuries by

many cultures, for every- thing from buttons for clothes to utilitarian objects to figurines

and large sculptures. The Endangered Species Act (1973) prohibited the importation or sale

of antique ivory and turtoise shell, and then was amended in 1978. A collector or dealer

should be familiar with this law. Ivory substitutes have also been used for centuries - sperm

whale and hippopotamus teeth, walrus tusks, narwhal and boar tusks, and stag antlers, in

addition to various types of animal bones. There is also a vegetable substitute from a very

hard nut (tagua) and many different plastic substitutes. In recent years Ivorex has been

used. When ivory is carved now it's so valuable that the shavings are saved, then powdered

and added to a resin base, and cast as a block. Technically, this is ivory, but it's certainly

not as valuable as an original tusk. It does allow for carvings larger than the circumference

of a normal tusk, however. Ivorex is very difficult to discern because it has the same weight

and texture as ivory, except for the grain. Is it real ivory? Take a look at a cross-section

under a magnifying glass. Elephant ivory has a cross-hatch kind of pattern. #### ####

something like this which you'll see if it's real. For a figurine, look at the bottom. On the

side - lengthwise on the tusk, you'll see a kind of wood grain pattern. Ivory has a shiny,

greasy look and feel to it, due to the oil in the tusk that doesn't dissipate with age. It can be

weighed on a jeweler's scale for density. Also, true ivory feels cool to the touch. Plastic

substitutes have been used since the 1850s, one of the earliest being celluloid. This was

used for dresser sets, mirror handles, billiard balls, etc. to simulate ivory. Some

manufacturers were even able to get the wood grain effect and the cross hatch pattern, but

the look, color and feel is totally different. Ivorine, ivorex and plastic substitutes are all

much softer than true ivory. There are a few tests you can do yourself, but if you're still in

doubt, take the piece to a qualified jewelry appraiser. Tests for plastic and plastic

substitutes: #1, heat up a pin or needle to red hot, and touch it to the piece in an

inconspicious spot. If it's plastic or a plastic type of material you'll see smoke and the

needle will leave a mark or brand on the piece. It will actually melt the plastic. This won't

happen with ivory or animal bone because of their higher density. Ivory is harder than

plastic, so it's more difficult to scratch. Try scratching it with a sharp knife. If it's ivory, you

won't see much, if it's plastic you will. Try acetone (paint thinner) - this will melt plastic

and plastic types. Ivory or bone are not affected. There are many tests for true ivory, but

these are the easiest for you to try at home without a lot of fancy equipment. As far as age

goes, it's very difficult to determine unless the piece is signed. In most of the Orient, only

the masters were allowed to sign their work, whether it was ceramic, jade, etc. and their

signatures have been recorded which helps with the date. New pieces of carved ivory are

still being made, as not all countries comply with the Endangered Species Act. Tusks are

still being sold to major carvers in China and Japan. The last time I was in Chinatown in

San Francisco, I saw thousands of reproductions, made from plastic resins and substitutes,

along with real but recent ivory and a few great pieces in some of the antique shops. So, it's

definitely a case of Buyer Beware!