(Fr-ivoire; Ger-Elfenbein [Stoßzahn - tusk]; Nor-elfenben ; Rus- слоновая кость [fossil ivory- мамонтовая])

A. Ivory.  Sperm whale (Physeter Linnaeus, 1758 sp.) tooth (height - 22.8 cm) from unidentified source area.  Collection of John Karlo.  (© photo by Dick Dietrich)
DESCRIPTION:  Although ivory is best defined as the dentine portion of a mammal's tooth, this entry deals only with the ivory widely marketed as such -- i.e., the ivory portions of one or more teeth of elephants, hippopotami, narwhals, sperm whales, walruses, and certain members of the pig (Suidae) familyPertinent features of each of these animals are described briefly under REMARKS
is composed of inorganic and organic materials:  The inorganic part is chiefly, if not wholly, rather poorly crystalline apatite [(Ca,Mg)5(PO4)3(F,OH)];  the organic part is chiefly collagenous.  (For more about the "poorly crystalline apatite," see the comments about "bioapatite" under the Description subheading in the BONES entry.) 
he following macroscopic properties and characteristics should suffice to distinguish ivory from bone, vegetable "look-alikes" and synthetics such as celluloid and polymers, which are common simulants of ivory.  A few of the listed properties provide means of at least tentatively distinguishing, for example, elephant ivory from other natural ivories -- see also the ADDENDUM at the end of this entry.  In many cases, however, procedures utilizing "state of the art" equipment are used to determine the identity of the animal from which any particular ivory came.
  Colors - ivory("creamy")-white, rarely tan;  white ivory often "yellows" with age;  also, I have been told, but to date have been unable to verify, the frequently stated "fact" that African elephant ivory exhibits a "warm" cream-like appearance whereas Indian elephant ivory is more nearly "cold" white, and that both narwhal and hippopotamus ivory commonly exhibit an off-white mottling of the overall creamy white color
    Texture - typically rather uniform and compact as compared to that of other natural organic materials available in the size ranges of ivory. In  addition, see Figure B and the relevant statements in the ADDENDUM. 
    H. (effective hardness)  ~ 5 for hippopotamus and narwhal ivory, which are slightly harder than elephant ivory;  [2½ -<3 per Webster, 1948-1949] 
    S.G. 1.7 - 2.0:  1.70 -1.85 (elephant and mammoth);  1.80 - 1.95 (hippopotamus);  1.9 -2.0 (narwhal, sperm whale, walrus and warthog) -- values recorded by Webster(1948-1949).
    Light transmission - translucent to opaque
    Luster - dull to pearly to waxy
    Breakage - irregular, commonly splintery/fibrous
    Miscellaneous -   Fluorescence:  Most ivory fluoresces white/violet-blue under long-wave ultraviolet light.  Careful macroscopic examination, especially of transverse sections, will permit one to distinguish between elephant ivory and mammoth ivory (see Figure B);  to distinguish both of them from the ivories of other animals;  to distinguish walrus ivory from the ivories of other animals;  etc. -- See the ADDENDUM.  

B. Schreger lines. Transverse sections of mammoth ivory (left) and African elephant ivory (right)  --  As the scale (bar in upper right equals 1 cm) suggests, these lines/patterns, which roughly resemble "engine turnings," can be seen with naked eye or use of only a hand lens.  Additional comments about these lines are given in the ADDENDUM.   (© American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works;  from http://aic.stanford.edu/jaic/articles -- (Espinoza & Mann, 1993)).

OTHER NAMES:  "Unless suitably qualified, the term ivory should ... be restricted to the tusks of the present-day elephant." Smith and Phillips, 1962)  But, marketplace use of the term ivory is not so restrictive:  For some people, including connoisseurs and experts, ivory may be derived from other animals.  And, the name of the animal from which any given ivory came may or may not be noted in displays and advertisements.  When so-used, ivory is usually preceded by the animal's common name but, in some cases, the geographic source of the animal is also mentioned  -- e.g., whether the ivory was from an African or Indian elephant.  In addition, the word tusk or tooth is sometimes used -- e.g., elephant and narwhal tusks versus hippopotamus teeth.  The following terms also have found some use;  the terms with asterisks [*] have the  definitions given in IFAW, nd).
USES:  Jewelry Ivory has been included in bangles, belt buckles, bracelets, cameos, cuff links, necklaces and rings. Some ivory used in jewelry has been carved or engraved, including scrimshaw (see Figure E, right).  And, ivory has also been used as the background for other artistically conceived pieces such as portrait miniatures and the brooch shown as Figure B in the HAIR entry.  

Carvings and engravings  Several fine carvings that depict flowers, animals and legends have been fashioned, many in Africa, Europe, and Asia (especially in China, India, Indonesia and Japan).  A figurine, "Venus of Hohle Fels," that is said to date back some 40,000 years and described as "The oldest sculpture of a human being ... [, was] carved out of mammoth ivory" (Curry, 2012). Inuit carvings from walrus ivory have been used as amulets and fetishes as well as for skinners and knives. An especially fine "engraved ivory ojime ...[showing] bamboo and a sparrow" is illustrated in Dubin (1987, p.169).  One of my favorites, of which I have seen only a photograph, is the "hinged ivory tusk [not otherwise identified] with mining scene carved in its interior ... [which was carved in] Germany ca. 1850." that is in the Harb and Monika Obodda collection (Huizing,2008).  The Japanese have given the name bachiru to ivory pieces that have been carved through the outer cementum layer of tusk to create a cameo effect.  A different, commercially oriented, kind of carving is shown as Figure D.

Inlay – Ivory is used as inlay on pieces such as jewelry chests and furniture.  Particularly when combined with ebony, such inlay often gives striking, black and white contrasts.

-- Ivory has found wide use for such things as billiard balls, buttons, chess pieces, chop sticks, combs, dice, dominoes, hand fans, mobiles, flutes (e.g., ancient mammoth-flutes), piano keys (still frequently referred to as "the ivories"), religious figurines, staff and pastoral stave heads, sword and dagger handles, tatting shuttles, toilet seats, vessels, and, of course, Ahab's (and other's?) left peg leg(s?).  As one might suspect, many utilitarian uses of ivory relate to one or more of its properties;  three examples are 1. its use as handles for teapots is based on its being a heat insulator (along this line, it also is an electric insulator);  2. its use for piano keys relates to the fact that ivory absorbs perspiration and players' fingers do not slip on ivory as they tend to on some plastic-covered keys;  and  3. its use as the "canvas" for portrait miniatures was based on the fact that ivory absorbed paints as desired (see Figure B, HORN entry).  Nonetheless,  virtually all these uses have been supplanted, at least in part,  by man-made materials that resemble ivory – see pertinent information given under under REMARKS and SIMULANTS.

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora):  Actions by, for example, CITES-MA of Thailand and TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) should be observed  and kept in mind by anyone with an interest in obtaining any thing produced from IVORY.  
           Pertinent information about CITES is given on several web sites -- just enter CITES on any search "engine" you use on the inter-net to learn the objectives,
laws, efforts to enforce them, etc. that relate to this extremely important effort to stop activities that have and unfortunately continue to lead to extinction of certain species of wildlife, including those that are witnessing possible extinction because ivory is obtained from their dead bodies.
     Added 27 January 2014:  "Illega ivory   The phillippines crushed 5 tons of smuggled elephant tusks (worth $10 million) to duscourage trading" (Time Magazine, July 8/16, 2013).   One wonders if this might lead to higher prices and even more poaching?!

OCCURRENCES  & NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES:  Ivory, called teeth or tusks, occurs where the host animals live either in the wild or captivity.  Another noteworthy source is in, for example, Alaska where these animal parts are found as the glacial and other ice is melted.  And, even more recently, a well-illustrated article shows how mammoth tusks have been and continue to be recovered from "ice cliffs" along Siberian coastal area of the Arctic Ocean. (Larmer, 2013).

REMARKS: The designation ivory comes from Middle English ivorie from Old French yvoire, ivurie,...;  from Latin eboreus (adjective) from  ebur, ebor-ivory -- cf. Coptic ebu ivory,
Egyptian ´bw, Sanskrit ibhas elephant. (O.E.D.)  The designation tusk -- which stems from the Old English "tux (whence by metathesis ME tusk, tosk), ... ([ --  refers to] A long pointed tooth; esp. a tooth specially developed so as to project beyond the mouth, as in the elephant, wild boar, and various other animals. A tusk is most frequently a development of a canine tooth, as in the boar and walrus; but it may be an incisor, as in the elephant and narwhal." (O.E.D.)

Most ivory pieces are carved and/or polished.  Ivory has "excellent working properties" (MacGregor, 1985, p.38);  it also has been dyed.  Softening procedures such as those mentioned for bone were apparently used for ivory as early as "the upper Paleolithic period ... the objective was to soften the ivory with a view to eliminating the natural curvature, and since the tusk in question was from mammoth rather than elephant ..., the curve would have been considerable.  A spear made entirely of mammoth ivory was found in association with two skeletons, the spear being so straight that it could only have been made by softening the raw material from which was made and straightening out the curvature." (MacGregor, 1985, p.71). -- Remarkable!!!  Webster (1975) notes that softening has also been accomplished by using nitric and phosphoric acid solutions.  So far as dyeing (and staining) processes, rubbing in of vegetable oils has been used to create diverse colors, and tea has been used as a stain ivory to create a patina-like appearance. 

The allusion to dyeing suggests that this is a good place to consider the term odontolite.
This term  -- and, by implication, synonymous designations such as ivory turquoise, bone turquoise, fossil turquoise and fossil toothstone -- has had a complex history of application.  In fact, even today it appears to mean different things to different people -- Three examples are 1."Mammoth ivory which has been coloured (usually blue or greenish) through being buried along side iron phosphate minerals which leach into the tusk."  (IFAW, nd).  2. the AGI Glossary of Geology (3rd edition) definition: "A fossil bone or tooth colored deep blue by iron phosphate (vivianite) ... and resembling turquoise, such as that from the tusks of mammoths found in Siberia." (Bates & Jackson, 1987)  and  3. the statements and conclusions recorded by Reiche et al. (2001) that indicate a)this materials has been formed as the result of ""Heat-induced color changes of fossilized ... mastodon ivory ... [ that, for example,,] Cistercian monks are believed to have created odontolite, a turquoise-blue 'gemstone,' by heating mastodon ivory ... to use it for the decoration of medieval art objects." and  b)the color is due to the presence of fluorapatite that contains trace amounts of iron, manganese, barium, lead and uranium.  My petrologic experience makes me wonder if there are two or more different materials with different origins that have been called odontolite. 

Care:  The following causes of undesired changes in ivory should be kept in mind:  Ivory is porous, permeable and hygroscopic.  Consequently, moisture can move in and out of it.  The movement, which usually is easier parallel with than perpendicular to the "grain" of the ivory, is commonly uneven.  In any case, it may cause yellowing, development of a dull luster and/or alternate swelling and shrinkage and/or warping and cracking.  Over prolonged periods, such movement of fluids may, of course, cause virtually complete deterioration.  (Along this line, I recall reading a statement in an advertisement for a narwhal tusk to the effect that anyone purchasing the tusk should be aware of the fact that the tusk would require intermittent rubbing with, I believe it was, Vaseline to prevent the tusk from drying out and cracking. -- But, I am told that  is not necessary: "If kept in a humidity controlled area or near a glass of water nothing else is needed." (Robert Weisblut, personal communication, 2006).  In any case, empirical observations indicate that acidic solutions tend to promote more harmful deleterious changes over shorter periods than alkali solutions.  This probably reflects well-known acid reactions involving apatite.  Alkali conditions, however, may also have ill-effects:  Alkalinity is known to promote removal of at least some of the inorganic constituents in ivory.  Another thing:  The porosity and "grain" of ivory are known to have led to its being stained when placed in contact with, for example, brass in such things as jewelry, knife handles and sword hilts.  All these things indicate that typical cleaning methods should not be used to clean ivory.  IF a cleaning solution is used, it must be used sparingly, quickly, and any moisture must be removed immediately so none of it penetrates the ivory.  This, of course, suggests that the use of extremely fine dry abrasives is probably the safest way to clean ivory;  for a rather complete study relating to the cleaning of ivory, see Driggers, Mussey and Garvin (1991).   Two more cautions:  Prolonged exposure to sunlight may lead to bleaching and/or making the ivory brittle, and sudden changes in temperature should be avoided.
In her summary of the early history of the use of beads, Dubin (1987, p.21) refers to engravings on mammoth tusks as "the earliest known figurative art."  Indeed, Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis King, 1864) and/or Cro-Magnon (Homo sapiens Linnaeus, 1758) apparently fashioned both decorative and functional items from ivory and bone at least 50,000 years ago.  Archaeological excavations have yielded several articles fashioned from ivory during the Upper Palaeolithic era;  examples include ivory beads, pendants and “exquisite figurines”
(e.g., Appenzeller, 1998);  ivory, as well as bone, needles with eyelets, unearthed in the eastern margin of the Central Russian Upland, about 250 miles south of Moscow, and dated as "roughly 24-22 ka BP (uncalibrated years)" (Hoffecker, personal communication, 2006 -- see also Hoffecker, 2002); and an ivory flute, found in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany, that was made of woolly mammoth tusks "roughly 35,000 years ago" (Conrad et al., 2004) -- The flute, which is illustrated, is especially noteworthy:  It was carved in two separate halves that fit together so closely when joined that the "seam" was air-tight.  In addition, "Friedrich Seeberger, an expert in prehistoric music and co-author of this report, has made a replica in elder wood. [And] His early experimentation suggests that the old flute would have allowed a relatively sophisticated level of musical variation. 'The tones are quite harmonic,' he says. They don't seem to follow a diatonic scale, he notes, but rather the rules of the pentatonic scale ..." (Schneider, 2004). *+*Conrad also found "Hohle Fels Venus," a  6 cm tall, 3-dimensional female figurine that was carved from Mammoth Ivory in the Hohle Fels area of Germany (see full-page enlargement with news item by MCally, 2009).  Attention is also directed to the short summaries of historical uses of ivory in several cultures (e.g., ancient Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome;  prehistoric and 17th and 18th century Europe;  Africa, China, India (and Goa) and Japan;  Islam and "Christian Europe" as well as the United States of America) given by Wills (1968).   *+*The use of carved ivory chess pieces is treated and illustrated in an article by Gordon (2009).  Among the pieces illustrated are an ivory pawn from a 9th or 10th century Arabian set and some of the pieces from "One of the few complete early European chess sets ... known as the 'Lewis Chessmen,' probably made in Trondheim Norway between 1150 and 1200 from walrus ivory and whales' teeth."

Some people hold that "'True' ivory comes from elephants and mammoths.  But, the term is generally applied to the tusks of other mammals, and some synthetics." (Springate, 2000).  Most people, and I agree, apply the name all the widely used tooth material from the animals shown on Figure C and noted in the next indented parts of this paragraph.

C. Ivory.  "Schematic representation of the skulls and tusks of ivory-bearing mammals (not drawn to scale)" -- from Brown and Moule (1977a).  (Slide -retouched- courtesy Grahame Brown)

        Elephants (African - Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797) & Asian - Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758) and mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius* -- for a discussion of this scientific name, see the last paragraph under this REMARKS subheading) - The upper incisors of these animals, widely referred to as "tusks," are large -- e.g., the famous Kilimanjaro elephant had tusks that weighed approximately 102 and 108 kg, were more than 3 m. long  and a 60 cm in circumference at their bases,   [However,"no other tusk in history ever went over 190 pounds [~86 kg]." (Robert Weisblut, personal communication, 2006)]  In any case, their other teeth are large but typically not homogeneous enough for use as ivory.  Both male and female African elephants have tusks whereas only some male Indian elephants have tusks.  Mammoths' tusks, most of which have been recovered where they were frozen in ice (e.g., in Siberia), have also found use as ivory, usually referred to as "fossil ivory."
        "Blood Ivory" from Elephants is described and discussed in the October issue of
National Geographic (Christy, 2012).  Though including some fine illustrations of some exquisitely carved pieces, the general theme of the article is one close to my mind-/heart-set, which is well expressed  by  Editor in Chief Chris Johns' editor's note (ibid. p. 4), "I see carnage and death."

D.  Ivory.   Antique Ivory Elephant Tusk Table.  Close-ups show the intricately carved elephants, under leafy trees, that are included.  Hand carved and signed by Claudia Kuripa.  (© photo courtesy Lewis Drake and Associates, from http://www.britishcampaignfurniture.com)

        Hippopotami (also called sea horses; Hippopotamus amphibius Linnaeus, 1758) ivory comes from their upper and lower canines (the lower, which range up to 60+ cm long, are especially prized) and incisors.  It is said to be the "second most commonly used ivory ...  to be denser than elephant ivory, harder to carve, ... [to have] a finer grain. ... [and to be] less prone to decay than elephant ivory." (Springate, 1997)By the way, many of us, as school children, learned that George Washington had wooden false teeth;  apparently this is not true.  -- According to Hippo World (1997), "George Washington's false teeth were not made of wood, as is commonly believed, but were carved from the tusks of a hippopotamus."
        Narwhals (also called sea unicorns; Monodon monoceros Linnaeus, 1758) - Most males of these Arctic whales have one long spirally twisted and grooved ivory tusk that is 1.8-3.0 m long.  -- See photograph on page 98 of the January 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine  A few females also have one tusk, and some males and females have two tusks, in which case one is usually much longer than the other. The typical single "tusk," which usually projects from the left side of most narwhals' jaws was "marketed by medieval merchants -- possibly in all good faith -- as the authentic horn of the fabulous unicorn" (Humphreys 1953), and endowed with all the powers then attributed to the unicorn.  From the ridiculous to the ...:  "Perhaps the most impressive object to incorporate narwhal tusks is the seventeenth-century royal throne of Denmark, now in Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen." (MacGregor (1985, p.43)Another noteworthy piece is a roughly cylindrical vessel in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum (see Zackowitz, 2012).
        Sperm whales (also called cachalots;  Physeter macrocephalus Linnaeus, 1758) - These whales have up to 50 cone-shaped teeth, all of which are posterior to their canines in their lower jaws;  each tooth is 6 - 24 cm long and weighs 900 -1000 grams (see Figure A)Some 20-50 teeth of sperm whales' lower jaws have been used as ivory.  
        Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus (Linnaeus, 1758)) - Walrus ivory is also known as "morse ivory."  Although most walrus ivory comes from their upper canines (tusks), ivory of their other teeth is also used.  Walrus tusks, commonly up to 1.5 m. long, are composed largely of dentine -- i.e., ivory In cross-section the tusks can be seen to consist of "a thin outer cementum layer, an inner ivory/dentine layer and a secondary dentine layer" or core. The "inner ivory/dentine" layer commonly exhibits lines that radiate outward from the central core.  The core dentine is more porous than the surrounding dentine (Brown and Moule, 1977a, p. 49) and has a finely compacted, mottled appearance, characterized as having a "marbled or oatmeal-like" appearance by Espinoza and Mann (1992, p.14) -- see Figure E.  The "inner ivory/dentine" layer is often referred to as primary dentine;  the core material, sometimes described as "crystal-like" or "crystalline," is widely referred to as secondary dentine or osteodentine, also referred to as "repair dentin" by Brown and Moule (ibid.).  Contrariwise,"The Teeth (molars) in cross section have a thick cementum layer, a transition ring, a[n] inner dentine/ivory layer and sometimes at or near center is a trace of seco[n]dary dentine." (otherwise unattributed quotations are from W.R. Mann; additional descriptive information is from R.E. Weisblut, personal communications, 2006)

IvoryWalrus Ivory:  Left, slice of Fossil Walrus Ivory (width ~6.3 cm);  note that the colorization is only in the primary dentine --i.e., it has not penetrated the secondary dentine;  Robert E. Weisblut collection(© photo R.E. Weisblut).  Right, "Weathering the storm in my heart" -- scrimshawed slice of fossil walrus tusk (width 6.5 cm);  again, note especially the central "crystalline" area;   Kim McClelland, Artist;  William R. Mann Collection;  (© photo by W.R. Mann).  
        Pig (Suidae) family -- e.g., warthogs (Phacochoerus aethiopicus (Pallas, 1766) & wild boars (Sus scrofa, Linnaeus, 1759 ) - Members of the pig family from which ivory has been used have continually growing canines -- a pair in each jaw.  So far as the warthog's canines, "Both pairs grow upwards with the upper ones being by far the most spectacular.  The lower pair ... are straight and keep a keen edge by the upper set rubbing against them.  They are sharply pointed.  ¶ The upper canines can grow up to 9 inches (23. cm).  They are of a squashed circle shape in cross-section, almost rectangular, being about 1 3/4 in (4.5 cm) deep and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide. The tusk will curve 90 degrees or more from the root. The tusk will not lie flat on a table, as it curves somewhat backwards as it grows." (Wikipedia, 2006a )  As might be suspected, only relatively small pieces or parts of things are fashioned from these tusks. 

Dugongs (also called sea cows, Dugong dugon (Müller, 1776)) - This ivory, perhaps the rarest of all ivories, is said to come from the females(IFAW, nd). This despite the fact "The dugong has a single upper incisor on each side of the jaw (which is tusk-like in males)..." (Huffman, 2005) and "The second uppers [incisors] are tusk-like and in the males over 12 years protrude (they are usually hidden in the jaw in females)." (everything2, 2001).  If these descriptions are correct, I have to wonder if the female's "tusks" being hidden has anything to do with their use and/or if the male's tusks not being used is just an omission in the records.  In any case, the female's hidden "tusks" are described as up to 20 cm long, apricot in color and nearly solid ivory (IFAW, nd).    Dugongs -- unlike their manatee "cousins" -- are restricted to marine environments;  they are native to shallow coastal waters of the Red Sea, Indian and southwest Pacific oceans.  Carvings from their ivory are known from south-eastern Asia and the nearby islands -- e.g., Java, Sumatra and the Philippines

Helmeted Hornbills - See SIMULANTS and the HORNBILL "IVORY" entry.

Statements about the bans placed on marketing, ownership, shipping, etc. of ivory are confusing.  For example, the BBC ... (1999) notes that "Between 1988 and 1997 there was a worldwide ban on the ivory trade to try to protect an elephant population which had suffered drastically at the hands of poachers.",  whereas I have been told by a person who keeps close track of this subject "There was and still is no law forbidding the purchase, ownership, shipping, sale, carving, and repair of ivory made before 1989 and done within a country. Plus CITES allows for international shipping of processed ivory made before 1989 with an exemption certificate." (Robert Weisblut, personal communication, 2006).  In any case, existing restrictions are different for different animals.  And, some harvesting of ivory is considered illegal, yet poachers continue to kill elephants illegally for their ivory.  As recently as mid-May, 2006, "Hong Kong customs officials ... seized an illegal trove of 600 ivory tusks from endangered African elephants, the largest such seizure there since the 1989 ban on the international trade in ivory."(U.S.News..., 2006)  How these tusks were shipped, however, was not noted;  in the past, "Customs officials have found ... [them] in crates marked BEESWAX, BONE MATERIAL, MARBLE or even JEWELRY."(Prothero & Schoch, 2002, p.193).  One wonders if DNA tests were made on any of these illegally harvested and shipped tusks to determine the region/country from which they probably came (see Scigliano, 2005).  See also Barta (2007). .

The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius  Blumenbach, 1799) is the state fossil of Alaska.  -- 
* Inconsistencies so far as citations of the scientific name for the wooly mammoth -- i.e., the widespread use of Mammuthus primigenius with no attribution versus the relatively rare use of Mammuthus primigenius  Blumenbach, 1799  -- has been clarified as follows:  The Siberian woolly mammoth "was formally named Elephas primigenius by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1799.  Much later authorities realized that the mammoth was sufficiently distinct to warrant its own genus. It's now known as Mammuthus primigenius" [which is usually given with no attribution]. (The Academy ... 1998-2004) 

Natural as well as manufactured materials have been and continue to be substituted for ivory.  Espinoza and Mann (1992, p.25) categorize the latter as "1) composites of an organic resin and an inorganic material;  2) composites of casein and a resin material and, 3) composites of ivory sawdust with a binder or resin ... [But] Ivory sawdust compositions are not ivory substitutes in the true sense of the term. [And,] They are subject to the same international trade controls and permit requirements as solid ivory products [-- see last paragraph of Remarks.]." 
Espinoza and Mann (op. cit., p.26-27) also suggest procedures to distinguish ivory from ivory substitutes -- e.g., the manufactured products absorb ultraviolet light (i.e., they appear dull blue) whereas ivory exhibits a white/blue fluorescence;  examination of shapes and other features (which they tabulate and illustrate);  [and]  "If no specific identification is suggested by ... [the outlined steps], submit object for laboratory controlled instrumental analyses."  (my underline)

Ivory has had noteworthy reversed-roles so far as a few simulations.   "Imperial jade [also called 'ivory jade'], emerald, pink tourmaline and coral imitated with walrus tusks" (Ahrens, ca. 1986, p. 24) is an example.

Several substitutes mentioned in the literature and/or communicated to me orally follow:

***Alabrite - Variously described as crushed alabaster or calcium carbonate with an adhesive binder (Shell, 1983 and Espinoza & Mann, 1992, respectively), this substitute is apparently no longer manufactured. - [What ever their composition, pieces of the material were usually cast so air bubbles are common and can be seen by hand lens examination;  also, alabaster-mixes certainly would have and calcium carbonate-mixes probably would have inferior hardnesses;  and, calcium carbonate effervesces with dilute HCl.].

Antler - See bone on this list.

Apple nuts  - one of the so-called palm nuts that resembles ivory.  Sometimes recorded as coming from the "Far Eastern nut palm," most of it  has apparently come from the "Caroline [Islands] ivory nut palm" (Metroxylon amicarum (H. A. Wendlland) O. Beccari.). - [The nuts typically exhibit a light orange colored fluorescence under long-wave ultraviolet light;  see also "Vegetable ivory" on this list.].

*** Bakelite - trademark name for a group of synthetic resins and plastics (q.v.) has been used as an ivory simulant (Shipley, 1951, p. 114). -
[inferior specific gravity (1.25);  gives odor of formaldehyde with hot-needle test -- BUT, see statement about this test in glossary.].  

Baleen - keratin plates that some whales (baleen whales) have instead of teeth.  This material has found use, chiefly on the basis of its being thermoplastic, for both functional and decorative items;  and example of the latter includes its use as a veneer, especially on boxes. Sometimes it is represented correctly as baleen; other times it is incorrectly called whalebone or misrepresented as horn;  particularly in the past it was sometimes called whale ivory. - [As keratin baleen is relatively easily distinguished from ivory by close examination;  inferior hardness is conclusive.].

Black ivory - This is rhinoceros horn and is listed here only because of its name.  It does not resemble ivory.

Bone (including antlers) - This is perhaps the most used simulant.  Long bones of oxen, the hard bone of large whales
' mandibles (Webster, 1975, p. 526) are common so far as such use. - [Bone exhibits Haversian canals and characteristic surficial patterns and has a higher specific gravity.  See BONE entry.].

***Casein - "Amorphous plastic made from the albumen of milk by treating milk with acid... [is] sometimes colored to imitate ... ivory." (Shipley, 1951). - [inferior specific gravity (1.3-1.4); gives odor of burned milk with needle-test
-- BUT, see statement about this test in glossary.].  

***Cederon - used as a simulant according to Shipley (1951, p. 114). - [Information about "Cederon" has not been found.].

***Celluloid (xylonite) -
"Since 1865, when it was first invented by Alexander Parkes, celluloid has been used as an excellent ivory substitute." (Shipley, 1951)  With addition of some filler to give it a higher specific gravity, this simulant found widespread use for billiard balls. - [Most celluloid does not have the grainlike characteristics typical of any of the natural ivories; it has an inferior specific gravity except when modified by adding some fillers; when a hot needle is put in contact with it, it will melt and may emit a camphorlike odor -- BUT, see statement about this test in glossary;  also, it has not  been manufactured widely for such use since the 1930s.].  

***Composite polymer - Sometimes called "ivoryite," this is ivory dust plus a styrene resin (Espinoza and Mann, 1992, p.25). [Observation using hand lens suffices.].

Corozo nuts (= Tagua nuts ?) - These "ivory nuts" from the South American ivory nut palm (Phytelephas macrocarpa Ruiz & Pavon, 1798) have been carved into small "ivory" pieces, buttons etc. [inferior specific gravity - 1.40-1.50; see also "Vegetable ivory" on this list.].

Datolite - Scrimshaw-like carvings on datolite
(note Datolite entry in GEMROCKS file) resemble, but so far as I know have never been represented as ivory scrimshaw. - [superior hardness (5 - 5½)].

***Diakon (also called perspex) - "a plastic used in Great Britain to imitate ivory" (Shipley, 1951). - [inferior specific gravity (1.2)].

Doum palm nuts - These seeds from the east African doum palm (Hyphaene thebaica (L.) C. Martius)
 resemble ivory. - [inferior specific gravity - 1.38 - 1.40; typically exhibit an light orange fluorescence under long-wave ultraviolet light; see also "Vegetable ivory" on this list.].

***Epoxy - This is used especially in the production of imitation scrimshaw. - [Close examination suffices.].

***Faux ivory - some not otherwise identified, some identified as a simulant such as celluloid, has been used for such things as handles on diverse things -- e.g., razors, shaving brushes, and the hafts of carving sets. - [no need for distinction so long as the faux adjective is used.].

***Fibroc - used as a simulant according to Shipley (1951, p. 114). - [I have found no properties for this recorded man-made material.].

***Fictile ivory - "castings made in fine plaster of Paris tinted with yellow ocre, with surface subsequently treated with a mixture of wax, spermaciti or stearine." (Webster, 1975, p. 532) -[Close observation suffices.].  See also Plaster of Paris on this list.

***French ivory - also marketed as "Genuine French Ivory" and "Ivoire de Paris," and called by other names such as ivoride and ivorine -- Items so-named are usually molded celluloid (q.v.).

***Galolith - casein plus polyester
(Espinoza and Mann, 1992, p.25). [I presume that this is a misspelling of galalith.  If so, it gives a burned milk odor when subjected to a hot-needle test -- BUT, see statement about this test in glossary.].  

Horn - sometimes used, but the appearance of most horn does not closely resemble ivory. - [gives a burnt hairlike odor when penetrated with hot-needle -- BUT, see statement about this test in glossary.   Also, see HORN entry.].

Hornbill "ivory" (also called "Ho-ting" and "golden jade") - This "ivory," which comes from the casque of the male Helmeted Hornbill (Buceros vigil (Forster, 1781)), a bird native to southeast Asia and some of the East Indies, is keratin -- i.e. not ivory. - See HORNBILL "IVORY" entry.

***Invelite -
used as a simulant according to Shipley (1951, p. 114) -- This is a plastic similar to bakelite (q.v.).   

***Ivorine (also Ivoride) - name sometimes given diverse ivory simulants, especially molded celluloid (q.v.).

*** Ivorite - casein plus a hardener (Espinoza and Mann, 1992, p.25). [gives odor of burned milk with hot-needle test -- -- BUT, see statement about this test in glossary.].

Ivory palm nuts - see Corozo, Tagua, and Vegetable ivory entries.

"Mandarin Ivory" - a polymer blend used for replicas of all sorts of decorative items -- e.g., sculptural tusks -- marketed during the last several years. - [brilliant fluorescence under long-wave ultraviolet light].

***Micarta -
Used as a simulant (according to Shipley (1951, p. 114)), micarta is apparently a bakelite- or epoxy-bonded laminate that consists largely of either linen or lightweight paper. - [Close observation should suffice.].

***Mock ivory -- material so designated, but not otherwise identified, has been use for such things as handles on safety razors and shaving brushes. - [Close examination of the texture should suffice.]

***Phenolic resin - Dekorit 203 and Dekorit V384 (Espinoza and Mann, 1992, p.25). - [inferior specific gravity (< 1.5); gives formaldehyde odor with hot-needle test -- BUT, see statement about this test in glossary.].  

***Plaster of Paris - Copies of ivory carvings have been made by making molds of the originals and then producing casts made of plaster of Paris;  the results are sometimes referred to as fictile (or fictive) ivory (q.v.).  [Cursory examination should suffice;  inferior hardness can be used.].

***Plastics - Diverse plastics have been used. - [Most plastics have lower specific gravities, are sectile (whereas ivory tends to chip), exhibit more brilliant fluorescent colors than ivory under long-wave ultraviolet light, and tend to emit peculiar odors when heated (e.g., are only slightly penetrated by a heated needle.]

***Polyester resin (?= polyresin) - Examples are Vigopas P71A and an unidentified one that may or may not be Vigopas ... which is described as "calcium-filled and 95% the weight and density of ivory, [and] the color of the resin material closely approximates the mellow tone of aged ivory." (Driggers, Mussey and Garvin, 1991,  p. 8). - [ inferior specific gravity (< 1.5)].

Pyralin - "Ivory pyralin" is the name given an E.I. DuPont DeNemours product (plastic) used for such things as backs of brushes and hand mirror mountings, that  dating back to the second decade of the 20th century. - [Close examination suffices.].

Reconstituted ivory -  powdered and sintered ivory has been molded into several diverse items that have been marketed as carved ivory. - [Even cursory examination should suffice.]. 

***Redmanol -
trade name plastic used as a simulant according to Shipley (1951, p. 114). [apparently similar to bakelite (q.v.) ].

***Resins - See polyester resin on this list.

Shell - seldom used substitute. - [effervesces with dilute HCl;  exhibits a mottled dull blue fluorescence under long wave ultra violet light.].

Tagua nuts (=
Corozo nuts?!) - "vegetable ivory" from tagua palm tree (Phytelephas macrocarpa Ruiz & Pavon, 1798). [typically exhibits an light orange colored fluorescence under long-wave ultraviolet light;  see also "Vegetable ivory" on this list.].  These palms grow in rain forests -- e.g., in central and south America -- and have been cultivated with "limited success" in Florida (Pedersen, 2008). 

"Vegetable ivory" - the generic term for seeds/nuts used as "ivory" -- see Apple, 
Corozo, Doum and Tagua nuts entries on this list.  Along with those just mentioned, Weisblut (personal communication, 2006) gives the following palms as sources of these nuts and seeds used as "ivory": Alexander, American Oil , At , Australian Black , Beccario , Betel (Areca) , Bismark , Forest Coconut , Foxtail , Ivory Nut , Jessenia , Manila , Miriti , Nubian , Pelana , Raphia , and Stilt Root [palms].  But, all "are too small [about the size of a typical hen's egg] to be of use except ... for small objects like thimbles [dice] and buttons..." (Anderson, 1980, p.382). - ["Sulfuric acid applied to vegetable ivory causes an irreversible pink coloring in about 12 minutes. [whereas] genuine ivory should not stain." (Espinosa & Mann, 1992) -- However, Robert Weisblut (personal communication, 2006) notes that he has tried to repeat this acid test and did not get the stated results.  Also, vegetable ivories have lower specific gravity values (1.38 - 1.5);  ].  Pedersen (2008) includes photographs of buttons and carvings fashioned from vegetable ivory and mentions several other uses, most of which she ties to historical eras. In addition, it seems noteworthy that for the last several decades, vegetable ivories have been virtually supplanted by plastics and thus have had little use. 

***Xylonite - alternative name of celluloid (q.v.).

REPLICAS:  Some of the animals from which ivory has been obtained are frequently replicated in figurines (etc.) with brass, china, enameled (cloisonné) copper, glass, rapoka stone (=soapstone=steatite), resin (some indicated as "faux wood"), silver and wood (acacia).  Although a large majority of these replicas depict elephants, I have also seen silver replicas of wild boars (with their tusks quite evident) and hippopotami (with their lower canines or incisors bared). Most are objets d'art, but a few have been produced for use as Christmas tree ornaments of such things as whimsical beats holding something or other such as cookie jar.  In addition, plush btown wooly mamoths with white curved white tusks, apparently also fabric, and similarly constituted elephant-like slippers and pillows featuring stylistic representations of elephants are marketed.  


ADDENDUM.  Distinctive features of the diverse ivories --
(paraphrased after information supplied by
William R. Mann)

The way to determine if an object is ivory, and if it is, what type of ivory it is, is to learn and remember the gross morphology of each kind of tooth and tusk -- i.e., the size, shape, internal structure and grain pattern of each kind, so you can look for traces of those features in, for example, a carving.  Macrophotographs and/or photomicrographs and descriptions of distinctive features of transverse sections of ivory derived from tusks and teeth are given by Brown & Moule (1977a) and Espinoza & Mann (1992) for the following animals
, walrus, hippopotamus, sperm whale, narwhal and boar/warthog, .  The following macroscopic characteristics are noteworthy.

ELEPHANTS, MAMMOTHS & MASTODONS -The ivory component of the incisor tusks of these animals have similar characteristics that differ from those of all other ivories: 
Ivory from these animals, and these animals only,  have Schreger lines so their presence is a diagnostic characteristic that distinguishes theese ivories from ivories of other animals.  The pattern of  these lines (see Figure B), which is manifest on transverse sections by a pattern of intersecting arcs that roughly resembles "engine turnings" or herringbone patterns, also serves to distinguish elephant ivory from mammoth ivory -- i.e., the angles pointing toward the center of the tusks of elephants measure 100 degrees or greater whereas the corresponding angles of mammoth and mastodon tusks are less than 100 degrees. In addition, the tusks of these animals are large, slightly curved, nearly round in cross-section, hollow at the large end, have roughly parallel wavy lines along their lengths and a nerve root that extends from the end of the hollow to the tip of the tusk and looks like a black round dot in cross-section.

WALRUS -The diagnostic characteristic of ivory from the walrus' tusks is the presence of secondary dentine -- i.e., the nerve hollow is filled with an ivory with a crystalline-like structure (see Figure E) that is called secondary dentine (or osteodentine).  In addition, the tusks tend to be ovate (rather than round like elephants' tusks) and many of them have a groove along their side.  No other ivory has this secondary dentine, so even if traces are seen in a carving, it is walrus ivory.

HIPPOPOTOMUS -Three kinds of teeth from these animals are used in ivory carvings (etc.) -- i.e., the upper and lower canines and the incisors. The largest is the lower canine. Both canines are markedly curved and triangular in shape;  the upper canine has a deep groove on one side so its cross-section has a heart-like shape. The incisor is straighter and has a roughly round cross-section.  A nerve root that looks like a “dash” or curved line, properly referred to as a “TIZ,” is present. The grain pattern is extremely fine and consequently difficult to see. Radial cracks are common.

WHALES -Two members of the whale family provide commercially useful ivory -- the Sperm Whale and the Narwhal.  Sperm whales have up to 50 teeth, all in the lower jaw;  each is 6 - 24 cm long, weighs 900 -1000 grams, is cone-shaped, and has a hollow end and a nerve root that goes to the tip. The distinguishing characteristic is a clear line of transition between the dentine and cementum layers.  The narwhal has a long incisor that is best described as a long (1.8-2.5 meters), spirally twisted and grooved ivory tusk, much of which is hollow.  No other tusk has this appearance, and  some portion of the twisted exterior is always left to be seen;  in addition, the grain pattern can be seen to follow the shape of the hollow in cross-section, and radial cracks are common.

PIG (Suidae) FAMILY - Ivory has been harvested from three members of this family -- the boar, warthog, and babirusa -- with that from the babirusa extremely rare.  Boar tusks are similar to hippopotamus tusks only smaller;  the upper and lower canines are roughly triangular in shape, and heavily curved. They can be carved but most are used whole as handles or grips for cutlery, bottle openers, corkscrews, etc.  Warthog canines are four sided with a groove on three of the sides. The upper canines are highly curved, and often used whole. They have a nerve root that in cross-section looks like a series of dots and, like that of the hippopotamus, is referred to as a “TIZ”.

To review methods that may be used to distinguish modern ivories from fossil ivories, see the recent article by Yin et al. (2013), which is cited in the References.  An example of the reason why such distinctions may be important is, of course, related to endangered species regulations -- e.g., the need for knowing that a given specimen is mammoth rather than elephant ivory.   

| Top | Home |

R.V. Dietrich © 2014
Last update:  27 January 2014
web page created by Emmett Mason