The term Antique ivory refers to collectable items that have been produced from ivory. Although the term “antique” is indistinct, it usually classifies products that were made before 1947.
Brief history and description
Ivory is another name for dentine, which forms the bulk of the tusks and teeth of animals. It has been used since ancient times as a material for manufacturing tools or creating artistic objects. Items made from ivory constitute a wide range of products, such as piano keys, billiard balls, chess pieces, dominoes, furniture and jewellery.
The most documented source of ivory is from the tusks of elephants, however, ivory is also obtained from sperm whales, rhinos, walruses and hippopotamuses.
Since the 1970s, the ivory trade has become very controversial as it has contributed to the decline of numerous animal populations in several countries, including the African elephant and the white rhino. Many ivory producing animals have been placed on endangered species lists and, as a result, trade of these items is prohibited and buyers and tradesmen can risk severe penalties.
Guide to collectors
Antique ivory collectors enjoy a wide range of possibilities as ivory can be used for many practical and ornamental uses. Tusk and tooth ivory can be carved and managed into a vast variety of shapes and objects, such as statues, furniture inlays, jewellery and piano keys.
Additionally, ivory products can be found for any budget and are therefore more practical for collectors to obtain an ample and diverse collection. Ivory teeth and tusks, particularly from elephants, rhinos and hippopotamuses, can be carved or scrimshawed to retain their morphologically identifiable profile.
Antique ivory is a highly valued collectible. There are a number of establishments, both on the high-street and on the internet, that specialise in ivory products and are a great source of information for existing owners and potential collectors. The largest ivory collectors’ organisation is The International Ivory Society and can be found at Internationalivorysociety.com.
Collectors should, however, proceed with caution when purchasing ivory items. Many ivory producing animals are on the (CITES) Convention International Trade in Endangered Species list and thus collectors should adhere to the laws of buying and selling of ivory as enforced by individual countries.
The trade of ivory in the United Kingdom and EU countries, in conjunction with CITES, is banned. This means that sales, imports, exports and transport are strictly prohibited. Specimens that predate 1947 are the exception to the rule as these are classified as antiques. However, please be aware that antique specimens of ivory that have been remodelled since 1947, for example into a knife part, are no longer exempt and cannot be traded.
Potential buyers, existing owners or collectors should visit Cites.org to establish the dos and don’ts on the open ivory market. Furthermore, collectors from the United States, the United Kingdom and the EU should contact their local government offices for more comprehensive information regarding buying and selling ivory products.
In October 1993, a Dieppe carved-iron vanity, dated to the third quarter of the nineteenth century, was sold through Christie’s, New York, for $28,750.
A pair of nineteenth century ivory tusks realised a price of $2,990, when they were sold at the New York branch of Christie’s in May 1994.