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Another Ivory question


Today I had a customer call about a piece of African ivory she
purchased while there on vacation. She was asking how to clean
the piece. Very fine intricate carving. She said she tried a soft
tooth brush and water but that the ivory began to flake. I’ve
never heard of ivory flaking but I haven’t messed with it that
much. She also said it yellowed quite a bit and has only worn the
piece once. I know ivory yellows with age but does it yellow
that fast?..Char


char - think about the combination of the 2 results from your
customer washing the ivory carving: 1. there was flaking, & 2.
it turned yellow after it flaked: it sounds like someone had put
a whiter coating of some kind to cover the age-yellowed ivory.
yellowing is an obvious antiquity factor & is desired by a lot
of collectors. i have had good results with removing surface
discoloration on my bone & fossil ivory carvings with what i
used to call a ‘film cutting’ xacto blade - the mounting end was
normal but partway down the blade it was notched in & the
cutting part was angled & about an 1/8th of an inch wide. it
gets into the crevices. then polish with pointed orange stick or
wood skewer in your flexshaft - you shouldn’t need polish but a
dab of ‘fabulustre’ does great. this could be all wrong, but
have been teaching myself in a vacuum so all i know is that it
works for me.



Hi Rob & Charolette, Is your client’s piece of flaking ivory
smallish? Your client’s piece of ivory might be boar’s tusk. I
have several pieces of this material and it flakes and yellows.
I’m not sure whether it is drying out or just reacting generally
to age and atmosphere, but it seems to be breaking into small
flakey platelets. I suspect it might be stabilised by oiling or
something similar. Perhaps it just needs to be digging for

While we’re on ivory-like materials, does anyone out there know
anything about “vegetable ivory”? One of my engraving colleagues
gave me an interesting seed. It is roughly oval in shape with a
softened triangular section and about 2" long, 1.5" wide and 1"
deep. In the piece I have, it has brown “veins” along its length,
although I suspect these are only surface deep. He showed me an
engraved carving he had completed and it certainly had an
ivory-like appearance - only without the characteristic curved
crossing lines that used to be called the “lines of Retzius”.

Are there other viable substitutes that are easily available,
work as beautifully and are not as guilt-laden as true ivory? In
anticipation, Rex from Oz


Hi Rex, Those “seeds” are called Tagua nuts. They are available
from Bourget Bros. They have a presence on the web at Rex, I hope that this helps.



Skip Meister
Orchid Jewelry Listserve Member
N.R.A. Endowment &
Certified Instructor
in all disciplines
Certified Illinois D.N.R.
Hunter Ed, Instructor
ICQ 37319071
"No man’s life, liberty or fortune is safe…while our legislature is in session."
Benjamin Franklin


While we’re on ivory-like materials, does anyone out there know
anything about “vegetable ivory”?

I have carved Tagua nut ‘ivory’. It works much like the real
thing, and polishes well. I think there are more than one type of
palm that produce the ‘nuts’ that are carvable. The Tagua nuts are
generally egg shaped and about that size. I have also seen a
larger sized nut but it was hollow in the center with only a
1/2" to 3/4" thickness of the material. Slices from the 'side’
of the ‘nut’ can give a larger flattish surface to carve, while
the center slice(s) would only produce a crescent shape. I can
see uses for both shapes. I have seen really spectacular pieces
by better carvers than I.




Vegetable ivory is a nut from the Tagua tree which grows in
tropical climates. When I lived in Ecuador, one of the local
crafts was to split the nut in half lengthwise and carve on each
of the flat surfaced halves, in cameo style, the profile of an
Indian chief or of Simon Bolivar (the liberator of northern South
America) and then paint the face. During WWII I understand that
buttons were made of Tagua.

Donna in WY