are many items on the Market today being represented
and sold as Ivory that really aren't. This may be
due to intentional deception or innocent ignorance. Next to the
term "Antique", this is the most abused of all
descriptions used to sell Asian Collectibles.
Knowing what material an item you own or are
considering buying is made from is important for
several reasons. In addition to the dramatic
difference in value between genuine materials and
synthetics, it is important to know whether you are
buying from a reputable dealer or one that
misrepresents their products and sells you items
made from plastic and resin, or even worse, someone
that deals in illegal Elephant Ivory and supports
the poaching of elephants that continues today
around the world.
how do you tell what is Ivory and what isn't?
put together this guide to walk you through the
process that we have used over the years to verify
the items we buy and sell to make sure that our
customers receive exactly what they ordered and that
we never do business with artists that still use
elephant ivory or attempt to sell synthetic items as
need the following items:
lighting source (that big ball in the sky works
Glass or Jeweler's Loupe
(you can print
one here if you don't have one)
Needle or Pin and something to hold it with (it
is going to be heated)
Flame - Matches, Lighter, or Candle (don't
worry, this is for after we know the piece is
first step, is to visually inspect the piece looking
for patterns or grain in the piece. Look for flat
parts or areas with minimal carving and scrimshaw.
Inspect this area using a magnifier. You are
looking for grain patterns or lines. There will be two
different patterns present. First will be somewhat parallel
lines that would have been running along the length
of the tooth or tusk the piece is carved from.
Perpendicular to these lines will be a cross-section
grain pattern. This cross-section should either look
like V's or circular/parallel lines. If the lines form V's,
it is either Elephant Ivory or Mammoth Ivory. These
V's are known as Schreger Lines. The angle of the
Schreger lines will help us determine if the piece
is Elephant or Mammoth ivory.
found Schreger Lines, Click Here to Continue - If
the lines are straight from opposing angles,
circular, or there are no lines, continue reading,
we are getting there.
are not sure what a Mammoth is: Click
found no lines or patterns at all, skip right to the
synthetic section and go for the pin test. Click
Here for the pin test.
point, we have eliminated Elephant Ivory, Mammoth
Ivory, and obvious plastic. Next we are going to
identify or eliminate bone as the material used to
make the piece. 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
of dark spots and/or canals are generally easy to
spot and resemble Dad's face at bedtime or Saturday
Here for pictures of bone pieces with
the dark patches visible.
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.
are down to Hippo or other mammal, Marine Ivory,
Vegetable Ivory (Tagua Nut), and Synthetic Ivory.
Let's start with trying to find the synthetic pieces
first. There are a couple quick ways to narrow this
down. Synthetic Ivory will have grain lines in one
direction, but when looking at the opposite angle,
you will not see any lines; the ends of the lines on
a synthetic piece will make a speckled pattern.
Please note that if the speckles are black, you may
be looking at a bone piece and you need to go back
to the bone section. If the piece was intended as a
fake, this surface will be disguised to hide this
giveaway speckled pattern. This surface is usually
the bottom of the piece.
different methods are used to make detection
difficult. Either the bottom is so heavily
scrimshawed and colored that you can't see the
grain, or it is ground very roughly. Since many
collectors and dealers look first at the bottom of a
piece, genuine ivory will only have the signature of
the artist since the grain confirms the pieces
authenticity and value. An artist is not going to
spend countless hours carving a netsuke, snuff
bottle or okimono only to destroy the bottom. Click
here to see a snuff bottle that was sold as ivory,
but is actually made from poly-resin. Click here for
more pictures of synthetic ivory and for the final
test to confirm that your piece is made from some
type of synthetic material.
finally down to pieces that have straight grain
lines in one direction and straight or circular
lines in the other direction. This takes us down to
Animals and Vegetables.
Ivory and Tagua Nut both have similar grain
Ivory has very fine, concentric lines and is heavier
than mammoth ivory or Tagua nut. Many hippo ivory
pieces will also have small patches of bright white.
This is the outer enamel layer and lets you know
that the piece is hippo.
Elephant Ivory, it is legal to buy and sell Hippo
Ivory. Hippo Ivory trade is controlled by
international trade agreements and restrictions. For
it to move in or out of the United States, it must
be accompanied by a CITES Certificate that traces
the finished piece back to its origin. (CITES =
Convention on International Trade in Endangered
information on other types of animal tusks and teeth
we recommend this
from the US Fish and Wildlife Administration.