Stepping out of the Ivory Tower...Part One

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer • Jun 19, 2012 • 0 Comments

Everybody knows that the tooth fairy lives in a castle somewhere in the sky made of all of our collective baby teeth.  And, of course, she keeps making additions to her home with every generation of new babies.  Or…maybe my mom made that up?  Anyhow, it would definitely take an immortal, such as the Tooth Fairy, to acquire the number of tiny human teeth needed to build an actual structure.  She’d have a field day if elephants put their tusks under their pillows at night though – each one weighing in between 55 and 200 pounds!

Ivory is specific to dentin found in elephant tusks.  It has been found primarily in Africa and Asia, but tusks from extinct Mammoth’s have turned up in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. 

Because of ivory’s rarity, there are other natural substitutes that are used and are also called “ivory,” such as the teeth of hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, sperm whale, and wild boar.

Because of its perfect, smooth, creamy quality, ivory has been carved since prehistoric times.  In ancient days, ivory was right up there in the class of gold and precious stones, considered a “luxury material.”

Ask any dentist (or the Tooth Fairy herself) about the make-up of your teeth and they’ll break it down for you into three parts.  First, there is the dental enamel – the part we see.  This is the hardest part.  In ivory carving, this layer is sometimes so hard, that it must first be grinded down.  The next layer is called the dentine, followed by the inner part, the osteo-dentine.  In animals, these last two layers are softer and much easier to carve.

Check out the pair of Chinese solid ivory carved Tang Dynasty style horses pictured above and available right here from Sallea Antiques.


The creamy white color of ivory itself is pleasing and needs no painting, but there are many items made of ivory that are painted beautifully.  Take, for instance, this exceptional American miniature on ivory pictured to the right.  This charming piece could be yours – just click here!

Stop by in a few days to learn more about ivory.  Until then, check out this video on youtube to actually watch ivory being carved.  Happy Latiquing!