Collecting Ivory Carvings!
Basic Rules For Collecting Ivory Carvings!
If you decide that you would like to collect items made from ivory, there are a few rules that you need to be familiar with. For those of you who have been collecting for years, I would like to invite you to share some of your expertise through our guestbook.
There are quite a few laws that govern the buying and selling of ivory. These laws are needed to prevent the destruction of many forms of wildlife due to poaching and killing animals just for the ivory trade. I whole-heartedly agree with these laws, but there has been a lot of confusion about collecting ivory because these laws can be hard to understand.
Here at Collecting Ivory Carvings, we will do our best to explain what you need to know to comply with the law and still enjoy the beautiful ivory carvings that collectors love.
We'll also try to lead you in the right direction for purchasing books and finding suppliers of such items as scrimshaw and other vintage ivory carvings.
It can get a bit confusing when trying to understand the laws according to CITES so I will be trying to do a simple write-up to help answer some of the questions that I get about these laws. Please have a little patients though. It may take me a while.
How about a little help?
I get a lot of questions about how you can test an item to be sure that it is ivory.
Over the years I have been told of a few ways to test for ivory with a hot needle. I still don't know for sure which way is the right way or even if they are true tests. If you have a sure way of testing for ivory, please share it with us in the "comments" section below! Comments will not show up until I approve them.
1. Heat a needle red hot and poke the "ivory" in a spot that is not noticeable. Plastic will melt. Real ivory will not show any sign of having been poked with the hot needle.
2. Heat a needle red hot and poke the "ivory" in a spot that is not noticeable. Plastic will melt outward, leaving a bump on the surface. Ivory will leave a nice neat little hole with no swelling.
3. Heat a needle red hot and poke the "ivory" in a spot that is not noticeable. Plastic will smell like burnt plastic. Ivory will smell like burnt hair.
I have a real scrimshawed sperm whale tooth and the hot needle won't make a mark on it, but then the dragon boat pictured below is made of bone and a hot needle will not mark it either.
Laws Governing Ivory
While I can not give any legal advice, I will give my interpretation as to what I believe to be legal in the buying and selling of ivory. For your own protection, I would advise you to read up on the laws and regulations listed on CITES, USA ivory regulations and your states regulations.
The Ivory Trade is regulated by a variety of laws which vary from state to state and country to country. International trade in Ivory - between countries, is regulated by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.) Formed in 1973, the aim is to establish worldwide controls over plants & wildlife that require protecting. Within the USA, Ivory trade is regulated by such laws as: U. S. Endangered Species Act of 1972 regulated by the Dept. of the Interior/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 administered by National Marine Fisheries Service.
There are "restricted ivories" that are listed in the CITES International Treaty. These ivories are restricted because they come from endangered species. While The United States complies with CITES treaty, they also have Federal laws that regulate buying and selling these ivories. Also, some states have their own laws and regulations on these items. Specific laws and penalties for violations for each type of ivory can be found on each agencies websites and we'll try to provide links to the proper sites so you can become aquainted with them.
Elephant ivory or AEI as it is referred to is restricted by the CITES treaty, as well as any items made from it. African elephants are on the CITES endangered species list and the import and export of AEI is regulated. While US Federal laws allow for interstate commerce on pre-CITES AEI, it restricts the import and export of this ivory. Some states require a special license for anyone trading in AEI. Visit the CITES page governing the African Elephant. You will need to type "African Elephant" in their search box.
Walrus Tusk & Whale Teeth & Narwhal Tusk or "Marine Ivories", or items made from marine ivory can only be sold to buyers in the same state. The Marine Mammal Protection Act is a law which prohibits non-Alaskan Natives from possessing raw walrus ivory that has not been handcrafted by Alaskan Natives. Walrus ivory tusk is highly regulated by The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Raw walrus ivory predating the Dec. 21, 1972 law, tusks bearing the Alaska state seal, ivory that has been carved or scrimshawed by an Alaskan native (Eskimo) are legal to buy, possess, and sell inside the sellers state, (intrastate). Raw walrus ivory obtained after 12/21/72 is not legal to buy or sell unless both parties are Eskimo (it is legal to own). The interstate sale of items derived from whale teeth (scrimshaw or unworked), and narwhal are also highly regulated inside the USA. The import/export of marine ivory to or from the USA is prohibited. No federal documentation is required to sell marine ivory intrastate (inside your state). The importing and exporting of marine ivory items is also regulated by CITES. Documentation required for the sale of marine ivory from country to country and varies depending on the country. You would need to check with the proper authorities in each country.
Scrimshaw is the name given to handiwork created by whalers made from the byproducts of harvesting marine mammals. It is most commonly made out of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, the baleen of other whales, and the tusks of walruses. It takes the form of elaborate carvings in the form of pictures and lettering on the surface of the bone or tooth, with the engravings highlighted using a pigment, or small sculptures made from the same material. The making of scrimshaw began on whaling ships between 1745 to 1759 on the Pacific Ocean, and survived until the ban on commercial whaling.
Pictured here, is a sperm whale tooth from my collection that was brought home by a soldier during WWII. It is signed "DIA'S" by the artist, and while it is not as valuable as scrimshawed whale teeth from the 18th or 19th century, it is still a valuable addition to any collection of scrimshaw.
An article in Wikipedia says, "Originating in an era when sperm whales were initially plentiful only to be hunted to near collapse, scrimshaw no longer is an artform utilizing an easily renewable animal resource, but one that is susceptible to contraband. Now, the Endangered Species Act and international conventions restrict the harvest and sale of ivory to try to reverse the scarcity of ivory-bearing animals."
"19th and 20th century scrimshaw, scrimshaw crafted before 1989 (elephant) or before 1973 (sperm whale ivory, walrus ivory etc.) is legal. It is prohibited after that year for commercial import in the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Additionally, walrus tusks bearing the Alaska State walrus ivory registration tag, and post-law walrus ivory that has been carved or scrimshawed by a native Alaskan Indian (Eskimo), is legally available.
Finally, any ivory considered ancient, such as 10,000 to 40,000 year old mammoth ivory, is completely unrestricted in its sale or possession."
"Scrimshanders and collectors acquire legal whale teeth and marine tusks through estate sales, auctions and antique dealers. To avoid illegal ivory, collectors and artists check provenance and deal only with other established and reputable dealers. Scrimshaw that is found to have been illegally sourced may be seized by customs officials worldwide, dramatically loses value and is very hard to re-sell, as the limited channels through which collectible scrimshaw passes serves as a check on unscrupulous persons. As with any other fine art form, it is usually possible for experienced museums, auction houses or other experts to perceive a fake."
Be careful when buying scrimshaw ivory whale teeth! There are a lot of reproductions out there that might be good for a converstion piece, but are only worth a small fraction of what a genuine ivory tooth is worth.
People have ornamentally carved ivory since prehistoric times. Ivory carvings have been discovered in the tombs of ancient Chinese rulers, and since the late Roman era ivory has been a popular for carving Christian art. Many boxes, that held religious relics, or costly jewelry were made of ivory. The ivory was usually obtained from the tusks of live elephants in India, and in Roman times, from North Africa. Ivory harvesting led to the extinction, or near-extinction of elephants in much of their former range.
East Asian jewelry and ethnic crafts account for most of the ivory carved in the last 200 years. Large amounts of ivory continues to be used for East Asian traditional art and ethnic hand stamp dies, even though African and Asian elephants are near extinction.
Vintage carved ivory is for the most part, extremely expensive! If you find a piece of "carved ivory" for a very low price, be weary. It is probably fake! But then, if you are thinking of buying an expensive piece of carved ivory, you should also be weary. Unless you are completely confident in the seller, you should get another "expert" to check it out.
As with any item of value, there are many great looking fakes in the marketplace. Don't be timid about seeking expert advice. It is better to pay for an expert appraisal than to end up with a worthless resin copy.
My Newest Piece Of Scrimshaw
I recently acquired this piece of scrimshaw for my collection. I was told that it was bone but other then that, I know very little about it.
I'll add a few more pictures later but on the other side it says "The Whaler Indian Off Tahiti". If anyone knows anything about this piece, maybe you can give me some history?
Carved Bone Dragon Boat?
Here is a picture of a dragon boat that I have. I gather that it is bone and not ivory because I have seen several very similar boats sell on eBay for anywhere from $300 to as much as $800 and eBay does not allow selling ivory. When I first saw one listed on eBay, I was shocked at the price it went for but I have been watching since then and it seems to be the going price for them.
This dragonboat is approx. six inches long. It does have a little minor damage as two of the oars have been broken off and it appears that there may have been one more flag at one time. A few of those sold on eBay had similar damage and it did not appear to have affected there value.
While I do not wish to list this on eBay, if anyone is interested init, please contact me.
More Ivory That Is For Sale.
A visitor has this item for sale. If interested let me know through the "contact lensmaster" link above and I will pass along the info.
Scrimshaw on Amazon
As this site is not large enough and I am not smart enough to know everything about ivory, I've added these links that might be helpful.
- Is Your Valuable Carving Fake Ivory?
The basic definition of ivory is the teeth and tusks that are most completely consistent of the material called dentine. When it comes to being able to recognize the different types of ivory, there are different ivory characteristics to look for.
- Ivory! Is it fake?
There is always that fear that the treasure you just bought is a fake. I think the fear is exaggerated. After some experience handling ivory, one can easily distinguish most "fakes".
Can You Help?
One of our visitors has these two bowls (next five pictures) that were left to her and she could use some info about them, such as country of origin, makers, age, value, etc.
Any help would really be appreciated. The measurements for the animal one is 83mm across, 57mm high & 2mm thick. The tiger one is 84mm across, 54mm high & 4mm thick. (All measured in mm) They each have markings on the outside & inside of the base as I have
tried to describe in one picture.
If you can help, please leave info in Guestbook or contact me through contact button above.
Marks' Whale Tooth!
Here is a picture of the carving that Mark would like some info about. If you know anything about it, please reply to him in the guestbook.
Please share your collection with us or just visit with other ivory collectors. If you enjoyed your visit, please give the site a rating point by clicking on the "like" button below or at the top of this page.