a casque rond [or oiseau]
-- The German language, apparently
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
of elephant tusks, which is
in the IVORY entry in this compilation.];
[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;
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,
-- 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
coated by diverse hues of red, which have been described as
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
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
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
Breakage - irregular, commonly
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,
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.
buckles, bracelets, brooches, combs, ear
incense burners, pendants, plume holders for hats, rings (especially
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"
brooches, cuff links, earrings and studs, much of which was fashioned
in Canton, chiefly for sale in the
"ivory" - Calao, another name given hornbills, is used as a modifier
the "ivory" in some literature -- e.g., Munsuri (1973).
crest ivory" - Designation applied to hornbill "ivory" especially in
Europe to pieces fashioned by Chinese craftsmen for use in jewelry (e.g., Cammann, 1950, p. 46).
jade - "The Chinese had a high
regard for this material and called it 'golden jade'."
(Kane, 1981, p.96)
See also Jade under SIMULANTS subheading.
- Hōden - Name applied
in Japan, where it is described as a jewel (Cammann, 1950, p. 34).
- Ho-ting -
The basis for using this name is reported as follows: "The Ming
writers called this material ho-ting,
writing it with
the character for 'crane' and the one for 'head or crest.'
Apparently ... as a Chinese attempt to reproduce the similar-sounding
Malay word gading, meaning
'ivory.' " (see Cammann, 1950, p.21 & 33) In addition, Ho-ting
hung is recorded
as meaning "crane's crest red" (Brown, 2003), and apparently
used to refer to the red part of these casques.
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
& NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES: Helmeted
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.
B. Hornbill "ivory". Brooch
~25 cm) with intricate carving mounted in gold; made for the European
market during the 19th century. Robert Weisblut collection.
(© photo by Dick Dietrich)
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.
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
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
faster and ending in wild
laughter, which gave rise to an old legend. They say that the
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
(Brown, 2003) and is about 10 cm high
and 5 cm wide -- a volume large
enough for fashioning three snuff
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
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
yellowish main part of the casque is gradual (Hurwit,
hornbill "ivory" is from young mature males. It has to be cleaned
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
1950, p. 21) Most
carving involves the same general procedures as those used for true
ivory and vegetable ivory. However, an apparently unique
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
utilization of the thermoplastic property of this material have been
utilized by some craftsmen.
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
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,
hornbill is an endangered species
(CITES, nd). Consequently, it is illegal to
import carvings, other
than antique pieces, fashioned from
hornbill "ivory" into the
States and several other countries. Cammann (1950) records pieces
held by many museums and personal collections. Brown (2003) notes
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 – 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”
personal communication, 2006). - [Close examination should suffice;
also, most amber will float on salt water whereas hornbill "ivory" will
"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
growth whereas hornbill "ivory" consists of fibers "which have a
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.].
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
outer sheath and the yellowish-brown core; More uniform texture;
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
should suffice to distinguish these from hornbill Ivory -- among
other things, plastic commonly includes bubbles and exhibits evidence
of having been molded.
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)
Dietrich © 2015
Last Update: 9 September 2006
web page created by Emmett Mason