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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
(Fr. ivoire, Lat. ebur), strictly speaking a term confined to the material represented by the tusk of the elephant, and for commercial purposes almost entirely to that of the male elephant. In Africa both the male and female elephant produce good-sized tusks; in the Indian variety the female is much less bountifully provided, and in Ceylon perhaps not more than 1% of either sex have any tusks at all. Ivory is in substance very dense, the pores close and compact and filled with a gelatinous solution which contributes to the beautiful polish which may be given to it and makes it easy to work. It may be placed between bone and horn; more fibrous than bone and therefore less easily torn or splintered. For a scientific definition it would be difficult to find a better one than that given by Sir Richard Owen. He says: 1 " The name ivory is now restricted to that modification of dentine or tooth substance which in transverse sections or fractures shows lines of different colours, or striae, proceeding in the arc of a circle and forming by their decussations minute curvilinear lozenge-shaped spaces." These spaces are formed by an immense number of exceedingly minute tubes placed very close together, radiating outwards in all directions. It is to this arrangement of structure that ivory owes its fine grain and almost perfect elasticity, and the peculiar marking resembling the engine-turning on the case of a watch, by which many people are guided in distinguishing it from celluloid or other imitations. Elephants' tusks are the upper incisor teeth of the animal, which, starting in earliest youth from a semi-solid vascular pulp, grow during the whole of its existence, gathering phosphates and other earthy matters and becoming hardened as in the formatidn of teeth generally. The tusk is built up in layers, the inside layer being the last produced. A large proportion is embedded in the bone sockets of the skull, and is hollow for some distance up in a conical form, the hollow becoming less and less as it is prolonged into a narrow channel which runs along as a thread or as it is sometimes called, nerve, towards the point of the tooth. The outer layer, or bark, is enamel of similar density to the central 1 Lecture before the Society of Arts (1856).
part. Besides the elephant's tooth or tusk we recognize as ivory, for commercial purposes, the teeth of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, cachalot or sperm-whale and of some animals of the wild boar class, such as the warthog of South Africa. Practically, however, amongst these the hippo and walrus tusks are the only ones of importance for large work, though boars' tusks come to the sale-rooms in considerable quantities from India and Africa.
Generally speaking, the supply of ivory imported into Europe comes from Africa; some is Asiatic, but much that is shipped from India is really African, coming by way of Zanzibar and Mozambique to Bombay. A certain amount is furnished by the vast stores of remains of prehistoric animals still existing throughout Russia, principally in Siberia in the neighbourhood of the Lena and other rivers discharging into the Arctic Ocean. The mammoth and mastodon seem at one time to have been common over the whole surface of the globe. In England tusks have been recently dug up - for instance at Dungeness - as long as 12 ft. and weighing Zoo lb. The Siberian deposits have been worked for now nearly two centuries. The store appears to be as inexhaustible as a coalfield. Some think that a day may come when the spread of civilization may cause the utter disappearance of the elephant in Africa, and that it will be to these deposits that we may have to turn as the only source of animal ivory. Of late years in England the use of mammoth ivory has shown signs of decline. Practically none passed through the London sale-rooms during 1903-1906. Before that, parcels of 10 to 20 tons were not uncommon. Not all of it is good; perhaps about half of what comes to England is so, the rest rotten; specimens, however, are found as perfect and in as fine condition as if recently killed, instead of having lain hidden and preserved for thousands of years in the icy ground. There is a considerable literature (see Shooting) on the subject of big-game hunting, which includes that of the elephant, hippopotamus and smaller tusk-bearing animals. Elephants until comparatively recent times roamed over the whole of Africa from the northern deserts to the Cape of Good Hope. They are still abundant in Central Africa and Uganda, but civilization has gradually driven them farther and farther into the wilds and impenetrable forests of the interior.
The quality of ivory varies according to the districts whence it is obtained, the soft variety of the eastern parts of the continent being the most esteemed. When in perfect condition African ivory should be if recently cut of a warm, transparent, mellow tint, with as little as possible appearance of grain or mottling. Asiatic ivory is of a denser white, more open in texture and softer to work. But it is apt to turn yellow sooner, and is not so easy to polish. Unlike bone, ivory requires no preparation, but is fit for immediate working. That from the neighbourhood of Cameroon is very good, then ranks the ivory from Loango, Congo, Gabun and Ambriz; next the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Cape Coast Castle. That of French Sudan is nearly always " ringy," and some of the Ambriz variety also. We may call Zanzibar and Mozambique varieties soft; Angola and Ambriz all hard. Ambriz ivory was at one time much esteemed, but there is comparatively little now. Siam ivory is rarely if ever soft. Abyssinian has its soft side, but Egypt is practically the only place where both descriptions are largely distributed. A drawback to Abyssinian ivory is a prevalence of a rather thick bark. Egyptian is liable to be cracked, from the extreme variations of temperature; more so formerly than now, since better methods of packing and transit are used. Ivory is extremely sensitive to sudden extremes of temperature; for this reason billiard balls should be kept where the temperature is fairly equable.
The market terms by which descriptions of ivory are distinguished are liable to mislead. They refer to ports of shipment rather than to places of origin. For instance, " Malta " ivory is a well-understood term, yet there are no ivory producing animals in that island.
Tusks should be regular and tapering in shape, not very curved or twisted, for economy in cutting; the coat fine, thin, clear and transparent. The substance of ivory is so elastic and flexible that excellent riding-whips have been cut longitudinally from whole tusks. The size to which tusks grow and are brought to market depends on race rather than on size of elephants. The latter run largest in equatorial Africa. Asiatic bull elephant tusks seldom exceed 50 lb in weight, though lengths of 9 ft. and up to 150 lb weight are not entirely unknown. Record lengths for African tusks are the one presented to George V., when prince of Wales, on his marriage (1893), measuring 8 ft. 72 in. and weighing 165 lb, and the pair of tusks which were brought to the Zanzibar market by natives in 1898, weighing together over 450 lb. One of the latter is now in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington; the other is in Messrs Rodgers & Co.'s collection at Sheffield. For length the longest known are those belonging to Messrs Rowland Ward, Piccadilly, which measure II ft. and 11 ft. 5 in. respectively, with a combined weight of 293 lb. Osteodentine, resulting from the effects of injuries from spearheads or bullets, is sometimes found in tusks. This formation, resembling stalactites, grows with the tusk, the bullets or iron remaining embedded without trace of their entry.
The most important commercial distinction of the qualities of ivory is that of the hard and soft varieties. The terms are difficult to define exactly. Generally speaking, hard or bright ivory is distinctly harder to cut with the saw or other tools. It is, as it were, glassy and transparent. Soft contains more moisture, stands differences of climate and temperature better, and does not crack so easily. The expert is guided by the shape of the tooth, by the colour and quality of the bark or skin, and by the transparency when cut, or even before, as at the point of the tooth. Roughly, a line might be drawn almost centrally down the map of Africa, on the west of which the hard quality prevails, on the east the soft. In choosing ivory for example for knife-handles - people rather like to see a pretty grain, strongly marked; but the finest quality in the hard variety, which is generally used for them, is the closest and freest from grain. The curved or canine teeth of the hippopotamus are valuable and come in considerable quantities to the European markets. Owen describes this variety as " an extremely dense, compact kind of dentine, partially defended on the outside by a thin layer of enamel as hard as porcelain; so hard as to strike fire with steel." By reason of this hardness it is not at all liked by the turner and ivory workers, and before being touched by them the enamel has to be removed by acid, or sometimes by heating and sudden cooling, when it can be scaled off. The texture is slightly curdled, mottled or damasked. Hippo ivory was at one time largely used for artificial teeth, but now mostly for umbrella and stick-handles; whole (in their natural form) for fancy door-handles and the like. In the trade the term is not " riverhorse " but " seahorse teeth." Walrus ivory is less dense and coarser than hippo, but of fine quality - what there is of it, for the oval centre which has more the character of coarse bone unfortunately extends a long way up. At one time a large supply came to the market, but of late years there has been an increasing scarcity, the animals having been almost exterminated by the ruthless persecution to which they have been subjected in their principal haunts in the northern seas. It is little esteemed now, though our ancestors thought highly of it. Comparatively large slabs are to be found in medieval sculpture of the 11th and 12th centuries, and the grips of most oriental swords, ancient and modern, are made from it. The ivory from the single tusk or horn of the narwhal is not of much commercial value except as an ornament or curiosity. Some horns attain a length of 8 to to ft., 4 in. thick at the base. It is dense in substance and of a fair colour, but owing to the central cavity there is little of it fit for anything larger than napkin-rings.
Ivory in Commerce, and its Industrial Applications
Almost the whole of the importation of ivory to Europe was until recent years confined to London, the principal distributing mart of the world. But the opening up of the Congo trade has placed the port of Antwerp in a position which has equalled and, for a time, may surpass that of London. Other important markets are Liverpool and Hamburg; and Germany, France and Portugal have colonial possessions in Africa, from which it is imported. America is a considerable importer for its own requirements. From the German Cameroon alone, according to Schilling, there were exported during the ten years ending 1905, 452,100 kilos of ivory. Mr Buxton estimates the amount of ivory imported into the United Kingdom at about Soo tons. If we give the same to Antwerp we have from these two ports alone no less than 1000 tons a year to be provided. Allowing a weight so high as 30 lb per pair of tusks (which is far too high, perhaps twice toohigh) we should have here alone between thirty and forty thousand elephants to account for. It is true that every pair of tusks that comes to the market represents a dead elephant, but not necessarily by any means a slain or even a recently killed one, as is popularly supposed and unfortunately too often repeated. By far the greater proportion is the result of stores accumulated by natives, a good part coming from animals which have died a natural death. Not 20% is live ivory or recently killed; the remainder is known in the trade as dead ivory.
In 1827 the principal London ivory importers imported 3000 cwt. in 1850, 8000 cwt. The highest price up to 1855 was £55 per cwt. At the July sales in 1905 a record price was reached for billiard-ball teeth of £167 per cwt. The total imports into the United Kingdom were, according to Board of Trade returns, in 1890, 14,349 cwt.; in 1895, 10,911 cwt.; in 1900, 9889 cwt.; in 1904, 9 0 45 cwt.
From Messrs Hale & Son's (ivory brokers, 10 Fenchurch Avenue) Ivory Report of the second quarterly sales in London, April 5906, it appears that the following were offered: - Tons.
From Zanzibar, Bombay, Mozambique and Siam 17 Egyptian 194 West Coast African II Lisbon I Abyssinian. 61 Sea horse (hippopotamus teeth). Walrus .
Waste ivory .
Hard ivory was scarce. West Coast African was principally of the Gabun description, and some of very fine quality. There was very little inquiry for walrus. The highest prices ranged as follows: Soft East Coast tusks (Zanzibar, Mozambique, Bombay and Siam), 102 to 143 lb. each £66, ios. to £75, ios. per cwt. Billiard-ball scrivelloes, D04, per cwt. Cut points for billiard-balls (31 in. to 2± to 3 in.) £114 to £151 per cwt. Seahorse (for best), 3s. 6d. to 4s. id. per lb. Boars' tusks, 6d. to 7d. per lb.
Quantities of ivory offered to Public auction (from Messrs Hale & Son's Reports). Fluctuations in prices of ivory at the London Sale-Room (from Messrs Hale 61 Son's Charts, which show the prices at each quarterly sale from 1870). In October 1889 soft East Indian fetched an average of £82 per cwt., but in several instances higher prices were realized, and one lot reached £88 per cwt. At the Liverpool April sales 1906 about 71 tons 55 104 were offered from Gabun, Angola, and Cameroon (from the last 54 tons). To the port of Antwerp the imports were 6830 cwt. in 1904 and 6570 cwt. in 1905; of which 5310 cwt. and 4890 cwt. respectively were from the Congo State.
The leading London sales are held quarterly in Mincing Lane, a very interesting and wonderful display of tusks and ivory of all kinds being laid out previously for inspection in the great warehouses known as the " Ivory Floor " in the London docks. The quarterly Liverpool sales follow the London ones, with a short interval.
The important part which ivory plays in the industrial arts not only for decorative, but also for domestic applications is hardly sufficiently recognized. Nothing is wasted of this valuable product. Hundreds of sacks full of cuttings and shavings, and scraps returned by manufacturers after they have used what they require for their particular trade, come to the mart. The dust is used for polishing, and in the preparation of Indian ink, and even for food in the form of ivory jelly. The scraps come in for inlaying and for the numberless purposes in which ivory is used for small domestic and decorative objects. India, which has been called the backbone of the trade, takes enormous quantities of the rings left in the turning of billiard-balls, which serve as women's bangles, or for making small toys and models, and in other characteristic Indian work. Without endeavouring to enumerate all the applications, a glance may be cast at the most important of those which consume the largest quantity. Chief among these is the manufacture of billiard-balls, of cutlery handles, of piano-keys and of brushware and toilet articles. Billiard-balls demand the highest quality of ivory; for the best balls the soft description is employed, though recently, through the competition of bonzoline and similar substitutes, the hard has been more used in order that the weight may be assimilated to that of the artificial kind. Therefore the most valuable tusks of all are those adapted for the billiard-ball trade. The term used is " scrivelloes," and is applied to teeth proper for the purpose, weighing not over about 7 lb. The division of the tusk into smaller pieces for subsequent manufacture, in order to avoid waste, is a matter of importance.
The accompanying diagrams (figs. I and 2) show the method; the cuts are made radiating from an imaginary centre of the curve of the tusk. In after processes the various trades have their own particular methods for making the most of the material. In making a billiard-ball of the English size the first thing to be done is to rough out, from the cylindrical section, a sphere about 21 in. in diameter, which will eventually be 2 or sometimes for professional players a little larger. One hemisphere - as shown in the diagrams (fig. 2) - is first turned, and the resulting ring detached with a parting tool. The diameter is accurately taken and the subsequent removals taken off in other directions. The ball is then fixed in a wooden chuck, the half cylinder reversed, and the operation repeated for the other hemisphere. It is now left five years to season and then turned dead true. The rounder and straighter the tusk selected for ball-making the better. Evidently, if the tusk is oval and the ball the size of the least diameter, its sides which come nearer to the bark or rind will be coarser and of a different density from those portions further removed from this outer skin. The matching of billiard-balls is important, for extreme accuracy in weight is essential. It is usual to bleach them, as the purchaser - or at any rate the distributing intermediary - likes to have them of a dead white. But this is a mistake, for bleaching with chemicals takes out the gelatine to some extent, alters the quality and affects the density; it also makes them more liable to crack, and they are not nearly so nice-looking, Billiardballs should be bought in summer time when the temperature is most equable, and gently used till the winter season. On an average three balls of fine quality are got out of a tooth. The stock of more than one great manufacturer surpasses at times 30,000 in number.
But although ball teeth rose in 1905 to £167 a cwt., the price of billiard-balls was the same in 1905 as it was in 1885. Roughly speaking, there are about twelve different qualities and prices of billiard-balls, and eight of pyramid-and pool-balls, the latter ranging from half a guinea to two guineas each.
The ivory for piano-keys is delivered to the trade in the shape of what are known as heads and tails, the former for the parts which come under the fingers, the latter for that running up between the black keys. The two are joined afterwards on the keyboard with extreme accuracy. Piano-keys are bleached, but organists for some reason or other prefer unbleached keys. The soft variety is mostly used for high-class work and preferably of the Egyptian type.
The great centres of the ivory industry for the ordinary objects of common domestic use are in England, for cutlery handles Sheffield, for billiard-balls and piano-keys London. For Lat h e FIG. 2.
cutlery a large firm such as Rodgers & Sons uses an average of some twenty tons of ivory annually, mostly of the hard variety. But for billiard-balls and piano-keys America is now a large producer, and a considerable quantity is made in France and Germany. Brush backs are almost wholly in English hands. Dieppe has long been famous for the numberless little ornaments and useful articles such as statuettes, crucifixes, little bookcovers, paper-cutters, combs, serviette-rings and articles de Paris generally. And St Claude in the Jura, and Geislingen in Wiirtemberg, and Erbach in Hesse, Germany, are amongst the most important centres of the industry. India and China supply the multitude of toys, models, chess and draughtsmen, puzzles, workbox fittings and other curiosities.
Vegetable Ivory, &c. - Some allusion may be made to vegetable ivory and artificial substitutes. The plants yielding the vegetable ivory of commerce represent two or more species of an anomalous genus of palms, and are known to botanists as Phytelephas. They are natives of tropical South America, occurring chiefly on the banks of the river Magdalena, Colombia, always found in damp localities, not only, however, on the lower coast region as in Darien, but also at a considerable elevation above the sea. They are mostly found in separate groves, not mixed with other trees or shrubs. The plant is severally known as the " tagua " by the Indians on the banks of the Magdalena, as the " anta " on the coast of Darien, and as the " pullipunta " and " homero " in Peru. It is stemless or short-stemmed, and crowned with from twelve to twenty very long pinnatifid leaves. The plants are dioecious, the males forming higher, more erect and robust trunks than the females. The male inflorescence is in the form of a simple fleshy cylindrical spadix covered with flowers; the female flowers are also in a single spadix, which, however, is shorter than in the male. The fruit consists of a conglomerated head composed of six or seven drupes, each containing from six to nine seeds, and the whole being enclosed in a walled woody covering forming altogether a globular head as large as that of a man. A single plant sometimes bears at the same time from six to eight of these large heads of fruit, each weighing from 20 to 25 lb. In its very young state the seed contains a clear insipid fluid, which travellers take advantage of to allay thirst. As it gets older this fluid becomes milky and of a sweet taste, and it gradually continues to change both in taste and consistence until it becomes so hard as to make it valuable as a substitute for animal ivory. In their young and fresh state the fruits are eaten with avidity by bears, hogs and other animals. The seeds, or nuts as they are usually called when fully ripe and hard, are used by the American Indians for making small ornamental articles and toys. They are imported into Britain in considerable quantities, frequently under the name of " Cbrozo " nuts, a name by which the fruits of some species of Attalea (another palm with hard ivory-like seeds) are known in Central America - their uses being chiefly for small articles of turnery. Of vegetable ivory Great Britain imported in 1904 1200 tons, of which about 400 tons were re-exported, principally to Germany. It is mainly and largely used for coat buttons.