(Fr- Calao a casque rond [or oiseau] "ivoire"Ger-Schildschnabel ? [ivory -- The German language, apparently
  in line with the belief that the material referred to in this entry is not ivory, has no word for this "ivory";  the German word for
   ivory, Elfenbein, relates directly to the ivory of elephant tusks, which is treated in the IVORY entry in this compilation.]; 
   Nor-hjelmkledd horn-nebb [horn-bill/beak],  ? [ivory -- The suggestion re the German language appears also to pertain
to Norwegian.]
Rus-? [hornbill], птица [bird] - [-]  клюв [beak] , ? [ivory -- same comment as for German].

A. Hornbill "ivory".  Rear row, left to right. - uncarved whole skull, incense burner and whole skull with carved casque;   Middle area, left to right. - snuff bottle made from beak and pendant, netsuke, snuff bottle and ear ornament carved from casque;  Front row, left to right. - belt buckle and snuff bottle in cicada form fashioned from casque.  (© photo by Robert Weisblut, co-founder of the International Ivory Society).

DESCRIPTION: Hornbill "ivory" comes from the casque (or epithema) of the Helmeted (or "Great Helmeted") Hornbill (Buceros vigil (J.R. Forster, 1781)) -- in older literature put in monotypic genus Rhinoplax Gloger, 1841, and sometimes designated Buceros (Rhinoplax) vigil).  Traditionally this material is designated hornbill ivory with no quotation marks enclosing the word ivory.  This is misleading because hornbill "ivory" is keratin whereas ivory per se -- e.g., that from elephant tusks -- is chiefly apatite (see IVORY entry).  Therefore, in "ZooGems & Curios" ivory is enclosed in quotation marks wherever hornbill "ivory" is mentioned.
    Color - The casque is chiefly yellowish white to golden or light brownish yellow, with its top and sides relatively thinly coated by diverse hues of red, which have been described as carmine-red, Chinese red, scarlet, orange-red or brownish red (see REMARKS).  And, the light-colored portion typically has a "blotchy" appearance (i.e., it is not homogenous);  this is a "diagnostic characteristic not really mentioned in the literature, but present in every piece I've ever seen (Robert Weisblut, personal communication, 2006).
    H.  2½ - 3;  ~2½ (Webster, 1975);  ~3 (Brown, 2003)   [Although I have not checked the hardness of any hornbill "ivory," I believe the statement that "it is harder than ivory" Munsuri (1973) is erroneous;  the effective hardness of the true ivories is ~5 on the Mohs scale whereas that recorded for the keratin materials treated herein, most of which I have checked,  are 2½ to 3.]
    S.G.  1.29 + .01;   ~1.28 (Kane, 1981);  1.28 or 1.29 (Webster, 1975);  ~1.30 (Brown, 2003)
    Light transmission - semitransparent to semitranslucent in thin pieces;  opaque in masses such as those described under USES.
    Luster - dull, pearly to resinous/subvitreous
    Breakage - irregular, commonly splintery/hackly
    Miscellaneous - It is thermoplastic - 110 - 125°C (e.g., Brown and Moule, 1982), sectile, exhibits a fluorescence ranging from greenish white to bluish white under ultraviolet light (Webster, 1975), and when subjected to the hot-point test emits a burnt hair-like odor  (In my opinion, this often recorded test should not be used on fashioned pieces of anything, but especially not on those even suspected to be made of this valuable, rare material!! --  It is a destructive test, and it is not needed because other means of identification can be used. ).

USES:  Relatively old carvings, many of which are exquisite, were made for use near the source areas and in China.  Belt buckles, bracelets, brooches, combs, ear ornaments, incense burners, pendants, plume holders for hats, rings (especially archers' thumb rings), spoons, snuff bottles, temple vases, and even whole casques were included -- see black and white photographs in Cammann (1950). In addition, the Japanese carved netsuke from the casques and used thin slivers of the red sheaths for inlay, usually along with other materials such as mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell and/or some metal.  After the middle of the 19th century, hornbill "ivory" was incorporated into such "modern jewelry" as brooches, cuff links, earrings and studs, much of which was fashioned in Canton, chiefly for sale in the Western World.

B. Hornbill "ivory".  Brooch (height ~25 cm) with intricate carving mounted in gold; made for the European market during the 19th century.  Robert Weisblut collection.  (© photo by Dick Dietrich)

Native ceremonial pieces that include -- indeed commonly feature -- the skulls of other hornbills have also been recorded -- see Kemp (1995, Figures 1.2 & 1.3).  None of these, however, is designated ivory!

OCCURRENCES & NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES:  Helmeted hornbills are native to the rainforest jungles of Southeastern Asia -- southern Myanmar (formerly Burma), southern Thailand (formerly Siam) and other parts of the Malay Peninsula -- and of Borneo and Sumatra of the East Indies.  Casques of the male are used to fashion the pieces treated herein.

REMARKS:  The word casque means head-piece or helmet.  Birds of the family Bucerotidae, "formerly called horned crow[s], [and/or] horned pie[s]" (O.E.D), were given the name hornbill because they have a horn-like excrescence on their upper mandible (= epithema in zoological nomenclature) that resembles certain helmets.

This helmeted hornbill, which is quite imposing in many ways, is described and illustrated in several publications, the most authoritative of which is Kemp (1995, p.192-196 & Plate 8), who refers to it as the Great Helmeted Hornbill.  The bird has also been called the solid-billed hornbill in English and Calao de Yelmo in Spanish as well as by the French and German terms noted directly below the heading of this entry.  In a rather extensive discussion about several of the names given the bird and the "ivory," Cammann (1950), notes the rather interesting fact that "in Malaya, this hornbill is often called the 'Kill your mother-in-law bird (Tebang mentua)" and adds the following:
                       "This name arose because of its strange call, consisting of a loud
toks repeated increasingly
                        faster and ending in wild laughter, which gave rise to an old legend.  They say that the Helmeted
                        Hornbill was once a Malayan who cordially disliked his mother-in-law, and finally chopped down
                        the stilts that supported her hut when she was inside it, in order to get rid of her.  As punishment
                        for this misdeed the gods then changed him into this bird, and condemned him forever to re-live
                        his crime by making the sound of the axe striking the foundation posts, followed by his outburst
                        of unholy glee when the house came crashing down."

The helmeted hornbill is the only hornbill with a solid casque --i.e.,
the casques of other hornbills have spongy interiors.  The casque of the adult male helmeted hornbill typically makes up more than 10 per cent of the bird's total weight (Brown, 2003) and is about 10 cm high and 5 cm wide -- a volume large enough for fashioning three snuff bottles (Munsuri, 1973, p.209).  It is dense and takes a fine, lustrous polish. The red hues of the casque (see Figure A) comprise only a relatively thin coating (see Brown, 2003, 2nd illustration) on the tops and sides of of the upper mandible.  They are apparently caused by the birds' rubbing their upper mandibles on their preen (i.e., uropygial) glands -- i.e., the red hues represent natural dyeing by oily secretions from the birds' preen glands.  The transition between the reddish zones to the natural yellowish main part of the casque is gradual (Hurwit, 1997).

The best hornbill "ivory" is from young mature males.  It has to be cleaned and cured adequately as soon as possible after the death of the bird in order to preserve the desired colors and other features (Munsuri, 1973, p. 210).  Untreated, "the red layer often tends to split away from the rest [of the casque and] especially under conditions of excessive dryness, it gradually loses colour.  However, these changes can be avoided or at least minimized, by special treatment [not described!], as many of the Chinese carvings demonstrate." (Cammann, 1950, p. 21)  Most carving involves the same general procedures as those used for true ivory and vegetable ivory.   However, an apparently unique and especially interesting type of carving used by the Chinese for some articles -- e.g. belt buckles -- made from these casques as described by Camman (1950, p. 27-28) is noteworthy:  It involved cutting away of parts of the red layer so the underlying yellow layer exhibited the desired design along with undercutting of the red layer except for a few "connecting posts" so the remaining layers would not separate one from the other.  As a result, the red layer was given an attractive translucence.  In addition, treatments that appear to reflect utilization of the thermoplastic property of this material have been utilized by some craftsmen.        

Historically, carvings [from hornbill casques] "have been found in a Neolithic tomb in Borneo." (Munsuri, 1973, p.208)  Early trade with China -- especially that during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and first mentioned recorded in 1371 -- was based, at least in part, on the fact that many Southeastern Asians wanted something made of this material because they considered it to be an aphrodisiac and/or a detector of poisons:  The increase of virility aspect seems likely to relate to the fact that, like the male narwhal's tusk (which also has been so-used), the male hornbill's casque appears to be a male characteristic with no function other than to exhibit its male sexuality;  the poison detection held that anything made from it would undergo a color change whenever it was in the proximity of poisonous materials, especially anything its owner might ingest.  It was only more recently, when Chinese traders discovered some of the fine carvings made from these casques, that hornbill "ivory" gained its rightful place among the highly esteemed materials used for fashioning valuable decorative pieces.  And, "It seems doubtful that any actual carvings in hornbill ivory reached the Occident before the middle of the nineteenth century." (Much of the preceding information, as well as the quotation, is from Cammann, 1950.)

The helmeted hornbill is an endangered species (CITES, nd). Consequently, it is illegal to import carvings, other than antique pieces, fashioned from hornbill "ivory" into the United States and several other countries.  Cammann (1950) records pieces held by many museums and personal collections.  Brown (2003) notes that "The Sarawak Museum [Malaysia] is one of the very few places where the general public can still see examples of magnificent carvings in hornbill ivory on display..." 

West Kalimantan (sometimes referred to as Kalbar), which is an Indonesian province of the southwestern part of the Island of Borneo, has the helmeted hornbill as its official emblem (Kemp, 1995, p. 195).  And, it is featured on one of the stamps of a "National Love Flora and Fauna Day" Indonesia series issued in November 1997.

Amber - Amber – e.g., a carving that has a golden yellow center and red outside -- has been marketed as hornbill "ivory".  “The carving could fool some people” (R.Weisblut, personal communication, 2006). - [Close examination should suffice; also, most amber will float on salt water whereas hornbill "ivory" will sink.].

Horn - "The most notable substitute comes from the inner part of the horns of a deer native to India.  [But,] These imitations are extremely rare and thus in a way more valuable than the authentic pieces." (Munsuri, 1973, p.210). [I have found no pertinent information that relates to means of distinguishing this material from hornbill "ivory" macroscopically.  Texture apparently suffices if viewed microscopically because the horn consists of fibers exhibiting concentric growth whereas hornbill "ivory" consists of fibers "which have a tendency to come together and separate like whirlwinds." (ibid.)

Horn or Ivory coated with ***red plastic -  "has been used ... [in attempts] to imitate the outer layer of the casque" (Ahrens, ca. 1986). - [Close observation suffices.].

Reconstructed hornbill "ivory" -  In their fine general article about hornbill "ivory," Brown and Moule (1982, p. 11), summarize the properties of this material as having the "improved properties of:  Firmer adhesion between the carmine outer sheath and the yellowish-brown core;  More uniform texture; [and] a glistening, luminous surface lustre." - [It would seem that macroscopic examination should suffice.].

REPLICAS:  Plastics have been used to produce what would be considered replicas by some and  simulants by others (see Figure C); Macroscopic examination should suffice to distinguish these from hornbill Ivory -- among other things, plastic commonly includes bubbles and exhibits evidence of having been molded.  

Yellow jade, which includes red zones has been carved and called "Calao ivory" is another "sticky wicket" so far as classifying it as a replica rather than a simulant.  In any case, as (Munsuri, 1973, p.211) notes:  "This is not a case of faking in the strictest sense of the word, since one can readily see that he is confronted with a stone, but it is indeed testimony to the profound admiration and appreciation the Orientals felt for Hornbill, that they would 'copy' it with the gem which enjoys their greatest appreciation."

C.  Helmeted hornbill skull. This replica (length ~ 22 cm), an unidentified polymer/plastic and rather realistically painted, was purchased from Skulls Unlimited International.  William R. Mann (GG, PG) collection.  photo by  W. R. Mann)

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