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How to Identify Bone

A guide to identifying Ivory and Ivory Substitutes

Bone has been used in arts and crafts for as long or longer than ivory and there are beautiful items made from bone. Many larger pieces would just be too expensive to market if made from ivory. Bone also provides an affordable alternative to ivory and many pieces rival the beauty of ivory, but from a renewable source.

Bone is very easy to identify, but often hard to accept, especially if you invested a considerable sum for a particular piece. Unlike teeth and tusks, bones have tiny canals that run through them to carry nutrients and house nerves and other organic material. Often times, some of this organic material adheres to the walls of these canals and turns dark as it decays. In well bleached pieces, this organic material may be very hard to see but the canals are still there and will show if you move the piece back and forth to reflect the light.

Patches of dark spots and/or canals are generally easy to spot and resemble Dad's face at bedtime or Saturday afternoon. Scroll down for pictures of bone pieces with the dark patches visible.

Another tell-tale sign that a larger piece is made of bone is that numerous pieces of bone need to be glued together or Laminated to make an item larger than a couple inches wide. Here are some pictures of laminated bone. Look for the seams.

Close-up Image  of bone from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Samples of Laminated Bone


The Great Wall of China The Forbidden City
The Terracotta Army Along the Silk Road
Dragon & Phoenix ~ Silk Embroidery
Silk Embroidery
Gold Leaf Painted ~ 10 Inch Turnip Vase
Gold Leaf Lacquer
Pair of 10 Inch Closionne Vases
Pair of Brass Foo Dogs
Brass & Bronze
Inside Painted Boxes

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