Return to Marinearts.com Home Page   

The term ivory can be used to describe the teeth or tusks of mammals that are of sufficient size to have commercial value and can be carved or scrimshawed. Ivory has always been among the most sought after of precious materials. Since before recorded history, man has been attracted to its subtle beauty. Ivory has been shaped and carved into innumerable religious, utilitarian and decorative objects. Since the early 19th century it has been the "canvas" for the scrimshander. The early scrimshanders carved and engraved whale and walrus ivory. Contemporary scrimshaw artists have more choices in the types of ivory available, but all of these ivories do have restrictions on them.

The following are the four major categories of ivory that are of interest to the present day scrimshander, and general laws and regulations concerning each.

WHALE IVORY OR BONE     WALRUS IVORY      ELEPHANT IVORY      MAMMOTH IVORY

Whale Ivory or Bone
All imports of whale products (teeth, baleen, bone, flesh, oil, etc.) have been banned since 1972. Whale ivory is grouped according to three classifications:

1) Antique- is any tooth that has been determined to be 100 years old or older, dating back from 1972 (1872 or older). This ivory is legal to buy and sell across state lines in any form. 

2) Pre-Act Teeth- are teeth that date from 1872 to 1972 and are covered by a U.S. government exemption certificate (only a handful of these certificates were originally issued and are no longer available). These teeth are legal to buy and sell but cannot be shipped across state lines in their raw form (they must be carved or engraved).

3) Any other teeth that were in the country prior to 1972 and not covered by an exemption certificate- These teeth should have a notarized statement from the seller stating that they were in his/her possession, in this country, prior to the 1972 moratorium. These teeth cannot be sent across state lines for commercial resale. The scrimshander must buy these teeth, work on them, and sell them within his state of residence only.

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Walrus Ivory
There are two categories of walrus ivory:

1) Fresh (or white) walrus ivory.  This is walrus ivory that is relatively new. It looks white compared to the fossil walrus ivory and is generally less than a hundred years old. White walrus ivory can only be purchased from a native Alaskan Indian (i.e. Yupik, Inuit. These indigenous people consider the term 'eskimo'  to be derogatory).

The ivory must have some form of native work on it, carved or scrimshawed. It is not legal to buy or sell any unworked fresh walrus ivory. The exception to the rule are tusks that have affixed to them a copper tag with a serial number. These tusks are from an Alaska state culling program in the 1960's and they are legal to buy, sell and trade across state lines as long as the tag is still attached.

2) Fossil, fossilized, (or ancient) walrus ivory. Fossil walrus ivory is very old, ranging from 300 to 3,000 years in age. Excavated from the permafrost in August and September each year, primarily by the coastal Yupik culture, fossil walrus ivory along with mammoth ivory are the most colorful of ivories. The term 'fossil' is really a misnomer, but this is what the material is commonly called. The term 'ancient'  is a more accurate one as none of the ivory has yet turned to stone.

Each piece is unique, its color determined by the kind of minerals it has lain with in the earth. The indigenous Indian cultures of the far north have hunted the walrus for thousands of years. Every part of the animal had a use in the survival of these peoples in an often hostile environment. The tusks were shaped into hundreds of objects; mostly tools but also toys and symbolic objects. Only the native people are allowed to dig for fossil walrus ivory on their lands. Once purchased from them it can be sold and resold across state lines at will.

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

African Elephant Ivory
The African elephant is on the Endangered Species List. As of June 9, 1989 all imports of African elephant ivory into the United States, in any form, are banned. A test to determine the difference between elephant ivory and mammoth ivory, the Schreger lines, has been developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to keep any elephant ivory from entering the country under the guise of mammoth ivory.  This test alone, while useful,  is not definitive for worked ivory.  Please read the full text of the Fish & Wildlife page for other indicators and useful information about other types of ivory.  Any African elephant ivory that was in the United States prior to June 9, 1989 is legal to buy and sell across state lines.

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Mammoth Ivory-
Mammoth ivory is also in the fossil ivory category. It comes from the extinct wooly mammoth and is extremely old, on the order of about 10,000 years. It is excavated from the permafrost in Alaska and Siberia and its outer rind can be very colorful. Mammoth ivory is softer than elephant ivory. They have a similar end grain pattern, but
a test to determine the difference between elephant ivory and mammoth ivory, the Schreger lines, has been developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to keep any elephant ivory from entering the country under the guise of mammoth ivory. This test alone, while useful,  is not definitive for worked ivory.  Please read the full text of the Fish & Wildlife page for other indicators and useful information about other types of ivory.  Anyone can dig for mammoth ivory with a permit, and it is legal to buy, sell, and trade across state lines.

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE
 

Site design and HTML by Robert Weiss 2010 Robert Weiss - Marinearts.com.
No information contained in this site, whether text or graphical may be reproduced in any manner without prior permission of the copyright owner.