Mankind has revered ivory as a symbol of chastity, opulence and virtue since very early in history. Early carvers worked with the tusks of mastodon, mammoth, rhino, hippo, walrus, narwhal and modern elephants.
Ivory hard to find. Ivory has proven to be one of the finest carving materials for miniature objects. Presently, very little ivory is carved because it is not readily available due to conservation efforts for preservation.
Indigenous inhabitants of some regions are permitted to utilize walrus ivory for art objects.
An alternate source for the carvers is bone and antlers. During early history, Egyptians and Chinese carved elaborate miniatures and inlaid many wood carvings with ivory. The Bible lists many articles employing ivory.
Many ancient nations skillfully created carved articles in this medium. Sailors in spare moments produced an object well known to many – the scrimshaw.
The active art of carving ivory today is limited to a few licensed artisans. A few also are producing art forms in China, India and Eskimos.
Enamel. Ivory is of the same properties of all teeth. It has an outer layer of quite firm enamel. Under this layer is a thick strata of dentine; the core is much softer with a consistency of hard compressed soap.
Workers ordinarily remove the outer layer, thus, removing surface defects and exposing pleasant white dentine. However, many older ivory objects retained the outer layer and incised the design through to the dentine.
Some ivory will separate in layers as it dries. Elephant ivory has a tendency to do this if stored in an extremely dry location.
Due to the firmness and elasticity of ivory it is quite possible to carve a lot of detail into it and/or achieve an intricate lacy pierced carving.
To achieve an old passim on ivory, the Chinese and Japanese hastened the appearance by coating the article with strong tea or exposing it to dense smoke, then wiping it off. If a carver desires a passim, a light-colored wood stain creates a fake appearance.
Artisans of Asia and Africa have created quantities of ivory carving, however most are quite small, delicate, and fragile. Nevertheless, they are outstanding in design, form and workmanship.
Rare quality. A quality rarely found is of a brilliant blue color which is obtained by contact with metallic salts. Some have a turquoise appearance and may be mistaken for this gem.
Certain plastics and a species of nut meat are now considered alike in workable qualities of ivory. Ivory has various color hues, including light yellow, deep chestnut, antique white and pure white.
Ivory from elephant tusks that was traditionally employed in carvings from Africa and Asia is now generally prohibited. Purchased either personally or by agents abroad is not recommended due to the fact about 90 percent of ivory on the market in recent eras is derived from poached elephants.
Paying the price. On the average, 90,000 elephants per year have been slaughtered for their tusks. Since 1979, the elephant population has been reduced 50 percent.
Imports of ivory and scrimshaws from whales, walruses and narwhals are also prohibited. Today, there are less than 600,000 elephants in Africa. Ten years ago there was 1.3 million.