Carved bone imitates ivory folk artBy

Carved bone imitates ivory folk art

An American reproduction wholesaler once introduced an extensive line of carved bone that resembled 19th century carved ivory folk art.

New pieces are copies of shapes commonly associated with the 19th century such as crimping wheels, cane handles, small boxes and dimensional models of various 19th century objects, especially nautical items.

New carvings are made from water buffalo and fish bones. Ivory and bone are two different materials. Ivory is composed of dentine which forms the teeth of all mammals. The main sources of commercial ivory over the centuries have primarily been the teeth and tusks (which are large teeth) of elephants, whales, walrus, hippo and warthogs. When viewed in cross section all true ivory has a grain pattern. The grain pattern is unique for each species.

Bone, unlike genuine ivory, has an internal structure of channels, or tubes, (Halversian System) that carry blood and other fluids through bone tissue. Cutting the channels at right angles will expose circular cross sections(Fig. 2). Cuts made parallel to the channels will expose grooves and pitting (Fig. 3). Pits and grooves in bone can be seen with the unaided human eye, but are best examined under 10X magnification.

Authentic 19th century American folk art in genuine ivory can sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars. Most new pieces of carved bone average under $100. Canes are $50 to $150; crimping wheels $20-$25; candlesticks, small boxes and novelty items are $10-$50. The new bone is being made in China.


Fig. 1 Typical samples of new carved bone made to resemble 19th century ivory folk art. Cane handle, left; model cannon, right. Other new pieces copied from vintage shapes include crimping wheels, corkscrews, letter openers and drawer pulls.


Fig. 2 End or cross section view of bone. This view exposes the hollow channels found in bone, but not found in ivory.


Fig. 3 Cuts made parallel to the hollow channels in bone expose pitting and grooves in the surface. Ivory does not have these pits and grooves.


Fig. 4 A cross section view of the distinctive crosshatched grain found in elephant ivory. The lines that form this pattern are known as Shreger lines. The angles of intersection can determine whether the ivory is from modern elephants or prehistoric mammoths.


Fig. 5 A cross-section view of walrus ivory. Walrus ivory can be identified by a mass of secondary dentine with a marbled or oatmeal appearance in the center of the tusk (arrow).