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Pieces likely made from faux ivory not rare finds

There is a serious question whether this statue is ivory or an ivory-colored resin.
There is a serious question whether this statue is ivory or an ivory-colored resin. MCT

Q: Are these statues of any value?

B. J.

A: We could have used a little more information, such as how tall these pieces are. A good picture of the bottom so we could evaluate the material from which they were made would have been really helpful as well.

But, we will start with what we know for sure and move on from there. There are three pictured items, a vase and a pair of “statues” that are supposed to have been made from a pair of carved African elephant tusks.

The vase looks like it too might have been carved from elephant ivory, but it is an absolute certainty (in our minds) that it was not. This vase with its elephant head handles was made from an ivory colored resin — a material sometimes referred to as “faux ivory.”

This is not a rare piece and we have seen a few dozen of these during our careers as appraisers. When a piece such as this “faux (or false) ivory” vase is offered for sale at retail, the price is generally less than $100 and we have yet to see a piece actually sell. However, owning this vase made from fake ivory is preferable in many minds to owning an object made from material that once belonged to a living and endangered elephant.

Since the vase is made from a fake material, this leads us to wonder if the tusks might not be fake as well. Like we said at the beginning, a photograph of the bottom of these pieces would have been very helpful because then we might have been able to see if they are real tusks.

Natural tusks are hollow inside for a certain distance up their length. Tusks are nothing more than elongated incisors with the hollow cavity up part of their length that was once filled with tissue, blood and nerves. The outside is dentine-covered with enamel that has a characteristic pattern that when examined closely looks like undulating criss-crossed lines that make a sort of diamond shape.

Most faux-ivory fakes (celluloid can be an exception) do not have these criss-crossed lines, and often they do not have the cavity at the end of the tusk. And when there is a cavity, it is so fake-looking that it should fool no one. Looking at these “statues,” they just do not look right to us. The color is off to our eyes, and the shape is a bit off, too — especially at the tip, which appears (in our view) to be too broad.

In summation, the tusks look very suspicious to us and may have been crafted from resin or may be carved from some sort of animal bone. B. J. should check the surface of the tusks for black specks because they do not appear on real ivory but can be found on bone.

Also, if these tusks are real ivory, they should have the undulating criss-crossed lines on the surface we mentioned. If these turn out to be real ivory, which we doubt, B. J. may have a more serious problem because at the current moment it is absolutely against the law to buy and sell elephant ivory.

This is a new regulation that went into force by executive order this past summer. While it is not illegal to own ivory, it is illegal to sell ivory unless you can prove that the object is more than 100 years old, and we do not think B. J. can do that.

It should be noted that a pair of finely carved tusks have brought (when it was legal to sell) thousands of dollars at auction. If this pair is real ivory, the price would be in the $1,500 to $2,000 range because of their mediocre quality, but since we believe they are probably not real ivory, that price would fall to about 20 to 25 percent of that figure at retail.

Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email treasures@knology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.

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