The International Ivory Society

IIS News letters

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All IIS news letters are sent to members via Email. We have provided several copies here so that you might see the typical  content you will find in our weekly newsletters. We do not attempt to keep these website copies current. Go to Membership pages to join IIS.

IIS Newsletter 2014-6

IIS Newsletter 2014-5

IIS Newsletter 2014-4

IIS Newsletter 2014-3

IIS Newsletter 2014-2

LAGOS, NIGERIA: This is a summary of an article published in the April 2013 TRAFFIC BULLETIN by IIS members ESMOND MARTIN & LUCY VIGNE.

Nigerian craftsmen and traders have been dealing in elephant ivory for centuries. This was a follow-up to earlier studies dating back to 1999. It shows that Lagos remains the main center for the sale of worked ivory in Nigeria.

Most tusks are smuggled into Nigeria from Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, and Gabon according to vendors interviewed in Lagos.

During the survey 33 retail outlets had 14,200 ivory items on display. An estimates 91% were less than 10 cm including thousands of pieces of jewelry, name seals, chopsticks, Muslim rosaries, and bangles. At the Lekki Market the only customers seen buying were Chinese who were buying in bulk. The Chinese population increased from about 2,000 in 2001 to 100,000 in 2007.  Western tourists did not purchase many souvenirs and took no interest in ivory.

No vendors admitted that the trade was illegal and would write receipts to say whatever the customers wished to make it easy to take the ivory abroad.

Parties in CITES should consider reinstating the CITES trade ban on Nigeria until the Government takes appropriate action to address the country’s blatant ivory trade.


This is a real breakthrough for me in Columbia , SC , our relatively new home - a full feature article in the October issue of Columbia Metropolitan Magazine! I won't write much about it (because I wish for you to read it), except to say that it happened because a friend here liked my work, bought one of my Bridges, and wrote to the editor about my scrimshaw.

Here is the link:

Other "Happenings" include acceptance of a piece "The Gervais Street Bridge" in the SC State Fair; in September I began my term as president of the Log Cabin Art Guild, a 25 year old local artists' group; acceptance in the Village Artists Gallery, a co-op gallery at Sandhills in Columbia I received two ribbons at this groups annual juried show earlier this year. I continue to do well at Artizan,, and enjoy being in this prestigious gallery. I presented my lecture on Scrimshaw at two gatherings, appreciated venues educating folks about the value of the original American art form we call scrimshaw. I've also joined the Trenholm Artists Guild (TAG), another very active art organization here in Columbia since 1971.

OKIMONO: When talking about miniature sculptures, the first object that comes to our mind is the netsuke. Okimono, the larger ornamental carvings, are much less popular. They were made as ornaments for the tokonoma. Like netsuke, they represent Japanese habits and mythology. Buddhist idols and Noh masks inspired many artists when creating these miniature sculptures. They were made out of wood and ivory and very often sculptured by netsuke carvers during the Meiji period. Around the 18th century the use of ivory increased. At the beginning of this century, the samisen (a stringed instrument) music became very popular. The plectrum to play this instrument was made out of the centre part of the tusk of an elephant. The small pieces that were left over were ideal for the carving of netsuke and, at a later stage, okimono. 

The Westernization brought far-reaching changes to Japan. Artists had to adapt their concepts to the demand of the Western world. As a result of the influence from the West, pockets were now added to the Japanese kimono, eliminating the need for netsuke. During the Meiji period netsuke were still produced for collectors, but more and more netsuke carvers began to focus on okimono. Because of the great demand for okimono for export, many artists started to produce objects of an inferior quality. However, there were also carvers that created beautifully sculptured okimono and followed the traditional high standard of their craft. 

The classification of wood and ivory okimono can be done by school (such as Kyoto or Tokyo schools), but the merit of each object leads to two trends in okimono carving that make the classification more adequate. The first one sticks to the Japanese tradition and can be recognized by strong modeling with striking poses, flowing lines and strongly expressed emotions. Traces of round and flat chisel marks can be found on some of these okimono. For the Japanese art lovers these chisel marks have the same appeal as the brush strokes in painting. The demand from the West leads to the second trend where good craftsmanship was characterized by a smooth surface without chisel marks.

IIS Newsletter 2014-1

INTERRESTING INQUIRY: I received this email. “I am doing some research on what's being called an Ivory Crush in Denver in mid-November. I saw your website and would like to chat with you.  Do you have time or can you recommend someone I should speak with? “

Andrea Dukakis
Colorado Public Radio
7409 S. Alton Court | Centennial, CO 80112
303-871-9191, ext. 463/Cell: 303-880-9303

This was referred to GODFREY HARRIS along with this input from RON FROMKIN who reported that “I googled "ivory to be destroyed in Denver" It turns out much of what they talk about was not in the USA when seized and was destined for other countries. It went to a USA lab for analysis only. No where does it say how long it took to get 6 tons of ivory. “

 NEW MEMBER- ROBERT SWARTZ: In 2010 I began to collect antique Colt firearms and focus on a particular model that was manufactured from 1871 through 1877.  It is a small gun of less than six inches in length with stocks measuring about 1”x2.”  Several guns in my small collection have stocks of ivory.

I became interested in ivory itself because the model reached the height of production in the period immediately following the Panic of 1873 when the guns were sold below cost.  I was curious whether Colt was able to make up some of the loss by charging extra for the mother of pearl and ivory grips which seemed to then proliferate.

It was almost impossible to discover anything about mother of pearl, but I did dig up some information about ivory.  I learned that most ivory shipped to the United States came initially from West Africa and when herds were there depleted the supply came from East Africa, and eventually Asia.  Asian ivory was not especially desirable because of its color was uniform and difficult to work.

The ivory shipped to the US generally went to Ivoryton, Connecticut to be cut up into piano keys.  The demand for pianos after the Panic dropped about 75%.  I imagine, but was not able to document, that there were excess supplies of ivory sitting around and being bought up by gun makers for use as stocks and others for their particular purposes at a deep discount.  I know that at least for one period the price of West African ivory fell 25%.  That prized product probably had a more inelastic demand curve than Asian ivory, say, but it is difficult to find supporting data.

Robert can be contacted at (210) 861 6601, or 4001 N. New Braunfels Ave., San Antonio, TX 78209, or at

ANSWER TO THE OLD TEETH -AND-SCALES QUESTION: It’s not quite a chicken-and-egg paradox, but scientists have long wondered which came first, teeth or scales. A new analysis of some toothlike fossils suggests the answer may be scales, contradicting decades of conventional wisdom.

The idea that teeth came first was based largely on 500-million-year-old fossil fragments known as conodonts. They look like teeth or spines, and contain tissue that resembles dentin and enamel, strongly implying they were an early precursor to teeth in vertebrates — appearing long before the emergence of scales.

Now, using high-resolution X-rays to study conodonts from several centuries, a team of paleontologists has determined that they are not directly related to vertebrate teeth, potentially upending the teeth-first theory.

“If you look at ancestors of conodonts, what you see is gradual assembly of toothlike characteristics” rather than a direct evolutionary progression, said an author of the studyPhilip C. J. Donoghue, a paleobiologist at the University of Bristol in England. The researchers, who published their findings in Nature, also reported that the conodonts did not contain dentin, “so the whole hypothesis collapses,” Dr. Donoghue said.

Teeth and scales are made of related tissue. Thus a scenario in which teeth came first suggests an “inside-out” theory of evolution, in which the tissue originated in the mouth, then grew across the outside of the body in the form of scales. In that model, scales were considered a predatory (rather than defensive) attribute.

Now Dr. Donoghue and his colleagues suggest that inside-out be replaced by outside-in. Scales were most likely intended for “protection rather than predation,” he said. “An extremely elaborate armor.”    
Thanks to GODFREY HARRIS for bringing this to our attention.