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Carving out a rare collectible.

Byline: Mike Litherland

WE had a call recently from a client on the Wirral who had a collection of ivory she wanted to sell. One of the pieces was this fine example of a Chinese carved ivory card case, pictured, which realised pounds 1,050.

To the Chinese, carving is a very important art form and has been for thousands of years. This art divides into three main categories based on the material used: wood carving, bamboo carving and ivory carving.

This last category involves the intricate and delicate carving on ivory, which is the milk white material from the tusks of elephants, walruses and narwhals. The beauty, along with its smooth feel and colour that comes with ageing, makes carved ivory a favourite for collectors around the world.

Although ivory carving in China dates back at least 5000 years, ivory came into China from Africa in quantities along the "Silk Road" some 2000 years ago.

Some of the ivory pieces existing today are extremely old. Antique pieces, which demonstrate an extremely high level of precision of carving, are very valuable.

Unfortunately, the craft is also riddled with forgery.

The use of false ivory, animal bones and other materials and pretending it is ivory, ageing new ivory to make it look old and forgery of masters' signatures among other activities have increased since China agreed to support the UN ban on ivory imports and in 1991 outlawed ivory coming into the country.

There are ways to tell if it is the real thing, the main rules to follow are with the ageing of ivory, the outer layer tends to change colour, first it goes yellow then deeper until eventually it starts to go brown. Also the surface changes and can appear to have a shallow grain; small cracks are not uncommon.

Another way is to examine the exterior surface and compare it to the inner carvings. If the ivory has aged naturally, the outer layer discolours differently from the inner parts where the ivory has been carved. In other words it does not discolour uniformly.

Ivory is a fine and durable material, but if not taken care of properly excessive dryness and extreme temperatures will affect it. With age it will develop small cracks on the surface and discolour. The easiest way to avoid this is to keep a glass or bowl of water near the ivory piece.

Cleaning ivory is easy; if it is dusty just use a soft brush to clean it, if stained or greasy then is needs to be washed in a mild soap solution, rinsed and dried right away.

It is not easy to detect the real thing from fake, the best way to be sure is to take it to the experts.

We are now accepting quality items for our next Fine Art Sale, also for a free valuation on items for sale just call 01704 538489, email a photo to email:auction@lots.uk.com, send one to Outhwaite and Litherland , 43 Hoghton Street, Southport or we can come to you.
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 21, 2011
Words:508
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