Ivory carvings, fashioned for thousands of years from the tusks of mammoths, elephants, rhinos and other animals, still captivate collectors even after recent controversy about the import of African elephant tusks. Artistic ivory carvings, from Buddha figurines to elaborate carved slabs of animal and landscape scenes, can sell for large sums if they're authenticated and sought after by collectors.
Learn the difference between genuine ivory carvings and bone sculpture being sold as ivory. Dentine, which forms around tooth pulp, comprises most of the elephant or hippo tusk. Ivory has a glossy surface and a dentine line throughout it. Bone carvings, sometimes passed off or mistaken for ivory, have dots and dashes throughout the piece and have a lackluster surface.
Determine the legal status of the ivory. Mammoth ivory carvings can be brought into the United States legally; new ivory from African elephants has been banned from import into America since 1989. Illegal carvings, offered for sale on the Internet as bone instead of ivory, often come from China.
Check the origin of the ivory carving. Artists still create sculptures from rare woolly mammoth tusks, which have been excavated from various sites in Siberia and Alaska. To see if your carving was fashioned from valuable mammoth tusk, look for a bluish tinge caused by thousands of years of exposure to minerals in the soil. Other types of ivory may still bring lofty prices, but mammoth tusk carvings remain highly collectible due to their rarity.
Find patterns and grain in the ivory carving. Use a magnifying glass to identify straight lines and criss-crossed lines which run together on ivory tusks as well as Schreger angles on the dentine, shaped like the letter “V”. These highly detailed lines separate real ivory from fakes and replicas.
Contact a qualified ivory appraiser. She should follow Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice guidelines and have experience in determining the value of ivory sculptures. Some firms specialize in appraising ivory figurines and carvings.