|Antique Canes and Walking Sticks|
Ivory & Scrimshaw Canes
I have several ivory handled canes in my collection, distinguishing ivory from bone, antler or horn, but including the tusks and teeth of animals such as elephant, walrus and whale. I have carefully tried to identify the type of ivory from which my handles are made, with the help of my 16x loupe, but it can be both difficult and confusing. I am learning a bit more with each attempt!
In his book, Ivory, Geoffrey Wills separates ivory into several categories including elephant, fossil, hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, sperm whale, hornbill, vegetable and synthetic ivories. All in their natural state, share a white or creamy color (unless stained). I will very briefly discuss only two, elephant and walrus, as they are the most commonly seen in antique canes. For more information on ivory or scrimshaw, check your library or the internet, as there are many books and websites offering more detailed information.
Elephant ivory is distinguished by its translucent crosshatching as seen on cross-section. Cut lengthwise, these lines appear triangular or diamond-shaped. Also look for subtle translucent surface striations (I use a 16x loupe for easier viewing). It is a fine grain with an even, geometric appearance.
Walrus ivory often has a marbled or webbed pattern on finished pieces. It is easier to identify when both the outer or enamel layer, which is dense and white, and the inner, dentin layer, which has a honeycomb or tapioca-like appearance, are visible.
Although it is fairly easy to distinguish between complete teeth and tusks, pieces are much more difficult to identify, and it is suggested that careful study of the cross-section of a piece of ivory under a microscope, comparing with known samples, and finally careful study of many samples, is necessary before a level of familiarity is reached.4
I have just sent away for a copy of the Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes researched by Edgard O. Espinoza and Mary-Jacque Mann of the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, who wrote this 35 page book with the goal of developing a visual, and nondestructive way for wildlife agents to distinguish ivory types. If I find this book to be useful and user friendly, I will add it to my bibliography.
1 - The Origins
of Engraved Pictorial Scrimshaw, The Magazine Antiques, October, 1992,
by Stuart M. Frank.
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