Antique Chinese Ivory Figurines


2015-06-26 11:15:39


Antique Chinese Ivory Figurines are small carved Chinese sculptures made from ivory.

History and Description

Chinese ivory carvings have been made since the Song Dynasty, beginning with a very intricate abstract form involving concentric ivory balls carved one within another.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the art-form further developed to include representations of human figures, animals, and small scenes. The density of ivory (actually dentine, the teeth of animals ranging from elephants to sea-mammals) permits very detailed work, and is very durable.

However, it must be worked in a moist climate, therefore ivory craftsmen were traditionally concentrated in the south. The figures reflect the pictoral art of each period, and are usually naturalistic. Pigment is rarely added; instead, the natural patina of the ivory is allowed to bring the carving into relief.

Guide For Collectors

It is vital that the collector ensures that the ivory he or she purchases is legally produced. The continued illegal poaching of elephants for their tusks, despite the 1989 ban on the sale of new ivory, has contributed to endangering the species.

Ivory figures obtained directly from China are particularly suspect, as China continues to flout the ban. The ivory carving craft is deeply entrenched in Chinese culture, and reproductions are widely made for export to the west.

However, the sale and purchase of antique ivory is legal. Therefore, first ensure that the carving is genuinely antique. Throughout the EU, only ivory verified as having been carved before 1947 can be legally bought or sold. Expert appraisal is advisable.


A figurine of a seated Buddha was sold by Wilton Theatre Auction Gallery in March 2012 for $1350.

In March 2012 a figurine of a man with a bird-cage was sold by Wilton Theatre Auction Gallery for $325.

Also in March 2012, a figurine of a man with a deer was sold by Wilton Theatre Auction Gallery for $225.

A figurine of a man feeding ducks was sold by Wilton Theatre Auction Gallery in March 2012 for $400.

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