The Mystery of the Forgotten Table: Help identify this antique ivory inlaid table.
In the 1920s, a prominent businessman named Walter Q. Patten purchased a mansion in Brentwood, an affluent neighborhood in southern California. One of the pieces he furnished it with is the ivory inlaid table pictured below.
This table has been passed down through the family to my wife. Regrettably, all details of when and where it was purchased, where it was made and when it was made have been forgotten. I'm posting pictures of it on this page in the hope that someone can tell me what it is, when it was made and where it came from.
The table is 30-inches tall and the top measures 27-inches in diameter. The wood is redder than shown in the photo. The tabletop and central column twist off of the base. It is covered with what I estimate to be over 9,000 pieces of ivory. There are also many pieces of inlaid black wood, which I assume is ebony.
Other than a few chalked numbers, which I assume were put there during shipping, there are no engraved marks anywhere on the table. The undersides of the base and tabletop do have the number 30 printed on a piece of paper and glued to them. There is also a small 30 appliqued near the top of the center pillar.
The following images show details of the inlay work. If your monitor is set to a default of 72 PP these images should be full size.
The rosette at the center of the table. The ring with the flowers
is carved out so that the flowers rest on the surface rather
than being inlaid into the wood.
The central rosette is surrounded by a ring of stylized plants.
Outside of that ring is another with 18 potted trees framed by
pairs of swans or geese and pillars.
The outer rings consist of a second carved-out ring of flowers,
two thin ebony rings and a ring of vining flowers, to point out
just a few. Note: the green tinge to the outermost ring is
an artifact of processing the image.
The inlaid work on one of the table's three feet. Ignoring the
stains and dirt from at least 85 years of use, the inlay work
here doesn't appear to be as high a quality or as detailed
as in the rest of the table.
The central support pillar. Unlike the previous images,
this picture is much smaller than the original.
Searching the Internet failed to turn up a table like this. I did find a much smaller one with a folding base that had inlay work that looked similar, though not as detailed or extensive. That table was cited as being made in Hushiapur, northern India around 1880.
So far people have written to suggest the table was probably made in northern India, though a few thought it might be Syria. One person who'd seen similar tables in India explained the inlays could be either elephant ivory or camel bone, the columns were of Islamic style and the plant motifs on the feet might be maise.
APPRAISED ON THE PBS ANTIQUES ROADSHOW!!!
After five years of trying we finally got tickets to PBS's Antiques Roadshow! We took the table to the Anaheim Convention Center in southern California on Saturday, 22 June, 2013 with hope the experts would be able to give us more information about it. Here's what we learned:
1. The table could have been made anywhere in northern Africa, India or the middle east.
2. The inlays are ox bone, not ivory. It took the expert several minutes of examining the inlays with a high power magnifying lens to determine this. He said he needed to examine all of the pieces carved in relief to find one that showed the grain end on. Bone would display dark spots. Ivory would show parallel lines or cross hatching. Our table had spots.
3. The furniture experts see three to five similar tables every roadshow, so they are not rare.
4. Our table is only worth $300 retail. If the inlays were ivory and the table was in perfect condition it might be valued as high as $1,000.
Although it did not end up being a priceless heirloom its unusual beauty nonetheless attracted enormous attention from everyone in the attending crowd.
SECOND TABLE FOUND!!!
I recently received an email from a very pleasant lady named DeeAnn who told me that she too has an ivory inlaid table. She kindly sent me photos of it and I'm posting them here because I'm sure anyone interested in tables like this will enjoy seeing them.
One of the most delightful features of DeeAnn's table is that some of the ivory has been detailed with blue enamel.
Each of the elephants has its own expression. They're all charming, particularly this little guy:
Here is an image of the legs and center post:
The table was purchased in India by DeeAnn's great aunt and uncle in the 1940s. It still has the original tag stating that it was made in India. Because it's been covered with glass the table top is in very good condition. The top measures 20-inches in diameter and the table is 22-inches tall.
DeeAnn would like to learn more about her table so anyone with information about it is invited to contact her at:
(Note: please delete the x before pasting the address into your email software. It's there to thwart spam spiders.)
DeeAnn may be interested in selling this table to someone with a realistic offer.
THIRD TABLE DISCOVERED!!!
In November of 2008 I was happy to receive an email from Mr. Rob Daugherty, who sent me the following images of an ivory inlaid table he inherited from his grandmother:
Rob said that his grandparents purchased the table from customs (seized or abandoned import sale) sometime before 1960. A label on the bottom of the table states that it was made in India.
The designs on this table are identical to those on mine. However, the craftsmanship, particularly on the legs and support column, is clearly superior in Rob's. The table top has more rings on it suggesting it is also larger, perhaps 36-inches in diameter.
This is truly a beautiful table and an incredible example of this art form. Anyone with information about this table can contact Rob at email@example.com.
FOURTH TABLE DISCOVERED!!!
Early in 2009 I received an email from Lyda Doyle with pictures of her ivory inlaid table. Unlike the first three, Lyda's is rectangular and build lower to the floor, like a coffee table. The inlay work is exquisite.
The legs are carved elephant heads.
Two cards on the bottom of the table identify the dealer...
...and where it was made.
explained that this table and a smaller one like it were purchased
in India by her grandfather while he was in the Navy.
Lyda, DeeAnn and Rob's emails gave me the idea of using this page as a focal point for these sorts of tables. I'd appreciate receiving an email with photos of similar ivory inlaid tables and the story of how they came into the owners' possession. Of special interest would be how much it cost and when and where it was purchased. I would then post the photos and story on this page. In time we may be able to find an expert who can provide detailed information about all the tables
FIFTH TABLE DISCOVERED!!!
Listing the tables seems to be working. In late January, 2009, Mr. William Wilson sent me pictures of a table his wife inherited from her grandmother. It was a gift from a wealthy businessman the grandmother dated at one time. A worn label states that it was made in India and there is a carved "13" on one leg.
The palace is the Taj Majal with windows of mother-of-pearl. As with Lyda's table, the legs are carved like elephant heads.
Anyone wishing to contact Mr. Wilson about his table can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a great looking table. Thanks William!
SIXTH TABLE FOUND!!!
Pam Rockwood sent me the image above of a 48 by 22 and 3/4-inch table top she purchased at a garage sale. The table was originally made with folding legs so it could be hung on a wall as a decoration when not in use. Unfortunately the legs are missing. She's been told it's several hundred years old. This outstanding inlaid table has a rich elegance barely suggested by this much-reduced picture. Anyone with information about this table is invited to contact Pam at: email@example.com.
TABLES 7 AND 8!!!
Judi Lund wrote to tell me that she has not one but two ivory inlaid tables. The first has a centered peacock surrounded by elephants.
The quality of the carvings in this table is exquisite. This table is 18-inches in diameter and 22-inches tall. The legs are carved like elephants.
has five identifying stamps, collected below for comparison:
Not pictured are the numbers: 25,1,2 and 3 stamped on the legs.
Judi's second table is also 18-inches in diameter but at 18-inches tall is slightly shorter than the first.
Like the first, this table also has stamps on the underside.
Not shown are hash marks carved into the legs in the form of I, II, III and a W or M.
What caught my eye in both of these tables is that the thickness of the ivory stringing appears to be more substantial that usual, giving them a impressively solid look. The table tops also appear to be thicker than typical with the sides beautifully turned. Both tables are outstanding examples of the art form.
Anyone with information about these tables are invited to contact Judi Lund at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TABLE NUMBER 9
In May of 2009 Mr. Ed Jaeger sent me the following images of his ivory inlaid table:
This nature scene exhibits some of the best artistic quality I've ever seen in one of these tables.
Mr. Jaegers purchased his table from Craigslist. The table top is 36 by 20 inches and the elephant-shaped legs are 16 inches tall. The legs and top are all marked with "11-14." Anyone wishing to contact Mr. Jaeger about this table may do so at email@example.com. (Note: please delete the x before pasting the address into your email software. It's there to thwart spam spiders.)
TABLE NUMBER 10
Forty years ago Lynn and Ray Crouse received this table as a gift. Anyone with information about it is invited to contact them at Xraylynn.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Tim Linton emailed me pictures of this table that came to his wife from her great uncle, who brought it back from India. Tim has requested an auction estimate from the famed auction house Chritie's and promises to let us know what they tell him. Check back around the end of September for that update. The table is 20-inches in diameter and 20-inches tall.
Four of the eleven tables on this page have center scenes of this same structure. Assuming it's the Taj Mahal, it must be a popular subject.
Anyone who wants to talk to Mr. Linton about his table can reach him at email@example.com.
The next table came to Leanna Leonard by way of her great, great Uncle, who brought it back from India. A tag on the table states it was from Punwani & Sons, Calcutta, India. Anyone wishing to contact Ms. Leonard regarding this table may do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracy MaCarthy's table gives us a baker's dozen for the page! The table was purchased in Southern California by her grandmother.
Tracy has no idea where or when, but says it must have been before 1960. She had it in her home for as long as Tracy can remember. There is a paper tag on the bottom stating that the table was made in "British India" and the words "Made In India" are carved into the wood near it. This table has a striking resemblance to Mr. William Wilson's table featured earlier. Visitors to this page wishing to contact Ms. Leonard regarding this table may do so at: email@example.com.
Pam and Keith sent in pictures of their outstanding table, which they purchased in 2008 from the buy-and-sell site Kajiji. It cost them $100 from a couple who were selling everything to move to south America. The extremely high quality of this table suggests to me that Pam and Keith got a great deal.
Anyone with information about this table may contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pam and Keith also succeeded in finding an email address for Dr. Amin Jaffer and contacted him about the tables on this page. Here is what he had to say about them:
Thank you for your email. The tables on the webpage are Anglo-Indian; most are from the Punjab (chiefly Hoshiarpur) with some examples from Mysore, both of which were major centres of ivory and bone inlay. Details of the production at these centres and examples of this workmanship are given in my book Furniture from British India and Ceylon (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2001). Please let me know if you do not have access to this volume and I will scan and send you the relevant pages.
With best wishes,
Shortly after sending me this email Pam and Keith hit the jackpot when Dr. Jaffer sent them an excerpt regarding ivory inlaid tables from his book. They forwarded these pages to me and I've paraphrased the most important points below:
The art of ivory inlay into rosewood first appeared in Mysore, in southern India, around 1870. Early designs consisted of floral patterns spreading outward from a central rosette. Gaps between the ivory and wood were filled with a mixture of rosewood powder and glue. As demand grew, a second center for inlaid work developed in Hoshiarpur, in northern India. In the early 1900s it was generally accepted that Mysore inlaid was superior in both design and execution. Around 1903, deity figures first appeared followed by animal figures in 1913. The 1930s introduced inlays of ebony, sandalwood, silver oak, and tamarind woods in figurative marketry in the form of landscapes and Hindu mythology. Ivory inlaid tables are still produced today, though plastic has replaced ivory.
The most important point in this article is that animals such as elephants did not appear until 1913. This provides a good point for dating an ivory inlaid table: if it has elephants or other animals it was probably made after 1913. However, this has a problem. Several tables have legs carved like an elephant's head yet all the inlay work on the leg and table top are floral. Does the elephant motif suggest later manufacture or does the floral work suggest early manufacture? Unfortunately the article does not clarify this point. Also, the article doesn't state if birds and fish, which are common in most table tops, count as animals.
Since early designs dating prior to 1903 were strongly floral in nature, I would think that tables with the Taj Mahal should be considered newer, say 1930s and on.
Fifteenth Table Discovered!!!
Mr. Steve Beijer sent in these photos of his table:
The extremely tight detail in the center of the table is exquisite.
The table is 40-inches long, 20-inches wide, 18-inches high and has the number 325 on one leg. Anyone wishing to contact Mr. Beijer about this table may do so at: email@example.com.
Mr. Christopher Shipley sent me the image above of his excellent table, which is unusual for this page because it is inlaid with mostly mother of pearl rather than ivory. Even the fine stringing appears to be mother of pearl. The table came to him from his aunt, who got it from her grandfather, who got it as payment for installing carpet in a rich man's house.
Sometime around 2006, Lela D. was browsing through a yard sale in Gresham, Oregon, when she found the following treasure:
The table is 18-inches tall and the same wide. There are several sequential numbers pressed and inked on various parts of the table suggesting one person did the inlay work while another assembled the table. The numbers infer a binning production technique.
The following close-up of one of the birds shows off the careful detail that went into this table:
The legs unscrew and the table boasts a label in excellent condition:
I Googled Sisoo Wood and discovered it refers to a dark-wooded tree (Dalbergia Sissoo) that grows in the eastern and northern areas of India.
Its wood is prized for its strength and durability and often used in ship building as well as fine furniture. Since most of the tables featured on this page are made from wood that's similar in color and grain to Lela's table it's not unreasonable to assume that many are made from this same wood.
Lela said that she paid $60 for this exquisite table from an elderly lady who had lived much of her life in India. I think it's obvious that Lela has both an eye for beauty and a good instinct for bargains. Anyone wishing to contact her regarding this table can do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Tom Brouchoud bought the following table at a San Diego flee market for $40.00:
A sticker on the underside of the top states that the table's made from osso wood. Tom's a cabinet maker with experience in antique reproductions and is in the process of restoring his table. Anyone wishing to contact him about his table can do so at: email@example.com. (The x isn't part of his email address. It's only there to thwart SPAM spiders.)
Someone named "DE" emailed me the following picture of a pair of tables he or she has:
Unfortunately, when I emailed him back for more information he never responded.
Twenty-five years ago Vic (xCutter5586@cogrco.ca) received the following chess table as a house-warming gift from a long-time chess partner:
The 20 x 20 table is 16-inches tall. The legs are numbered 1,2,3,4 and also have 125, 522, 82 and 43 on them. Interesting. There is a number 66 on the underside of the table's top. Anyone with information about this table is invited to contact Vic about it.
Twenty-First and Twenty-Second Tables!!!
Back around 2004 Stephanie discovered the following two tables at a storage auction:
The table has an outstanding balance between complexity and artistic design. It's interesting and entertaining yet very easy on the eyes.
unusual use of two different shades of inlay. As the first image
shows, this gives the table a unique sense of depth and warmth.
If I were a collector this would be the first table on this page I'd want.
Her second table is a great example of inlay virtuousity at its finest. I particularly like the use of parrots rather than the more common storks.
Stephanie is interested in selling these tables to help support her parents. Anyone interested in purchasing them is invited to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, please don't copy the x before copying and pasting the address into your email system. It's there to thwart SPAM spiders.
Twenty-Third and Twenty-Fourth Tables!
Kimberly and Ryan Barr recently purchased the following two tables during an auction in Columbia, South Carolina:
The first table measures 20 inches in diameter and is 17.5 inches tall. The second is 22 inches across and 20 tall. The second table is truly unique in that it has a beautiful sky blue reflecting pool of inlaid material in front of the Taj Mahal. Another very unique feature is the clouds above the temple. Most tables have a pair of birds and a few have a plain background. This is the only one I've seen with clouds. The tables cost $160 each at the auction. The quality of the inlay work is unusually fine in these tables, particularly in the lion and gazelle images in the second table. Anyone with information about these tables is invited to contact Kimberly or Ryan at email@example.com.
NEW!!! Table Number 25!
Suzanna Sineone struck gold ten years ago when a friend let her treasure hunt in an old building on her property. In it she discovered not one but two great ivory inlaid table. She got to keep the one above and her friend kept the other, which featured the Taj Mahal on it. I think Suzanna got the real winner because this table demonstrates a different style and form than any other table on this page.
The quality of the detail work is exquisite, as exemplified by the tiny bird sitting in the tree.
Anyone wishing to contact Suzanna regarding this table is invited to do so at: xSuzannaS@mail.com.
Suzanna not only scored with an outstanding table but also found a record of a similar table sold at the world famous Christies auction house For $2,500.00. That table was listed as having ivory inlays. I assume bone inlaid tables would be less valuable, though by how much I can't guess. The sale description is posted at the bottom of this page.
26th Table Discovered!
Byron Runevitch's father brought this table back from India during World War II. It's 2 feet across and high. The ebony inlays in the Taj Mahal are unusual. Additionally, the flower inlays and small dot inlays seem to reflect a different school than most of the other tables on this page.
Equally, the unique panels filling in between the lags mark this different than other tables. The legs are hinged for folding. Anyone wishing to contact Mr. Runevitch about this table can do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol hit the jackpot at an estate sale when she picked up this treasure in 2006 in Michigan for only $55.00. It appears to be in perfect condition and even came with a glass cover to protect it. I particularly enjoy the finely detailed inscribing on the wing and tail feathers.
It features attractive elephant ear legs and best of all...
... a pristine identification label. What I find most interesting about it is that it states that Carol's table is design number 20. I can't help wondering what the other 19 look like.
Anyone wishing to contact Carol about this table is invited to do so at: email@example.com.
Priscila Castanho found this beautiful table in a thrift store in Lamberville, New Jersey. It shows excellent detail and workmanship. Anyone with information about this table can contact Priscilla at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carrie Pratt is the proud owner of this table. While I'm not an expert, something about the carving suggest more of a middle east influence than Indian. Carrie would greatly appreciate any information anyone has about it. Please contact her at: email@example.com.
This treasure is owned by Susanne, who came by it via her grandparents who purchased it at the Philadelphia, PA sesquicentennial celebration in 1926. It has several stylistic features in common with Mr. Byron Runevitch's table (number 26 on this page.) The lack of birds and animals suggests Susanne's table is older. A reasonable estimate would be pre-1900. This gate-legged table has "Made in India" on the bottom of the table and is also marked with the number "7." Below that is a symbol that looks like two connected "C"s followed by the number 99. As if this beautiful table wasn't enough, Susanne also has the following ivory inlaid tray:
Like the table, the tray is stamped "Made in India" and also has the number 7 on it.
Susanne has been actively researching these tables and discovered the following table at the Victoria and Albert museum:
The accompanying article states that this table was made in 1880 in Hoshiapur, India. Note the absence of animal motifs supporting this assessment. Although the detail and workmanship appears outstanding, the description claims that it was a standard type, which makes me wonder what a high-end table would look like. If some of the features suggest Islamic styles, it's because that was a form that was in demand in Europe and England, for which most of these tables were made. The museum claims they were manufactured in vast quantities but doesn't state actual numbers. For more information about this table, please use the following URL: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/077358/table/.
I want to thank Susanne for sharing her table with us and forwarding the valuable information about the museum table.
This unusual oval table is owned by T. French, who acquired it from his father who purchased it during World War II on a runway outside Rajistan, India. The man who sold it said it had been in his family a long time. It's rosewood with ivory, mother of pearl, jasper and ebony inlays. The two ovals are scrimshaws of Shah Jahan and his third wife Mumtaz Maha, for whom he built the Taj Mahal in memorium.
Mr. John Cooper received this table as a gift. It was purchased in India in the 1980s. While the lack of animals suggest it's a very early table, and indeed it may be, it may also be a newer table made in the older style. Either way it's absolutely beautiful and a fantastic example of this artform.
Dave Canny has the largest and most ornate table I have ever seen: a massive 9-ffot long dining table with ten matching chairs.
Note that in addition to superb ivory inlay work, this exquisite table is covered with the finest inlayed woods.
This is a matching sideboard.
Mr. Canny would like to sell this table and is asking $3500. Anyone interested in it should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please delete the red x before pasting this address into your email system.
Lauren inherited the following table from her father-in-law, who picked it up in Calcutta, India, when he worked there from 1954 to 1964:
A label on the bottom states: "Made in India #23."
This beautiful table features more mother of pearl than many tables and the stylized trees on either side are mesmerizing. If it looks familiar, it's a near twin to the forth table on this page.
A Very Special Table!
Early in 2013, Mr. Lyon sent the following images of a table which exhibits a level of craftsmanship beyond anything I ever imagined:
most tables have leaves and flowers that are flat outlines, note
that in Mr. Lyon's table
each individual leaf and flower petal is carved with intricate detail. Also, the form of the
floral elements and flowing style of the string work is also different than most tables.
A particularly unique feature is the drapework inlay around the sides.
While I am not an expert on these tables, I can't resist speculating about this one. First, the style of the flowers and leafwork is so much different that the other tables on this page I believe Mr. Lyon's table was made by an independent workman as opposed to factory produced tables. Second, the excruciatingly fine detail makes it obvious the whoever made this table was an elite master of this craft. Third, the solid construction hints that this was intended as a working piece of furniture as opposed to the more common, lightly constructed tables, used mainly as decorative pieces. Finally, there is something about the drapework around the sides that suggests a French, Italian or Spanish style rather than English. I wouldn't be surprised if it was intended for the continental instead of the British market.
36, 37 and 38th Tables!
Camille in Canada is the proud owner of the following 2 and 1/2 tables (2 tables and one top:)
Camille's largest table measures 40 x 20 inches. The ebony inlaid elephants outlined with inlaid ivory are extremely unusual.
second table is 20 x 20 inches and obviously intended to be a match
for the first table.
Both tables have "Made in India" on the bottoms as well as the number "43." With the
exception on the center motif, the styles of the tables are so similar I can't help
assuming the "43" refers to the style of border decoration rather than a table
model. She aquired both tables around 2003 for $750.00 Canadian.
Camille's 1/2 table is the top to a table measuring 18 x 12 inches. Purchased from a flea market for $10.00.
The following image shows how well the tables combine and also shows the elephant head legs:
Anyone wishing to contact Camille about her beautiful tables can do so at: email@example.com
39th and 40th Tables!
Mr. Jeff Lange and his wife are the proud owners of the following two tables:
This table is 18-inches tall, 18-inches wide and 36-inches long.
Here's a close-up of the detailed work.
Their round table is 20-inches across and 20 tall.
They purchased these tables for $550 in 1998 from an estate sale.
In February of 2017 Sarah emailed my the following image of her matched pair of tables her stepfather got in India:
42nd and 43rd Tables!!!
Patrick sent in pictures of the following two tables:
They were purchased by his mother, Gloria, in Panama in the 1970s for $75. The graceful flow of the peacock's tail is particularly beautiful
TABLE VALUATION RESEARCH RESULTS
During July, 2009, I emailed 21 antique furnature appraisers and auction houses explaining this page and asking if they could recommend an expert on ivory inlaid tables. Only four responded: one said he didn't know of any, two only sent estimation prices ($500 and $700 per table) and one sent the following:
Thanks for your interest in John Moran Auctioneers, Inc. I have viewed the images of the tables on your website. The tables are Anglo-Indian with one or more of the following inlays (Bone/Ivory/Ebony Wood/Abalone shell), dating from as early as mid 19th C. and as late as 1st quarter 20th C. In todays economy, sale comparables within the last six months reflect a value range from the mid hundreds to a few thousand dollars. The following factors have a great impact in value and desirability; craftsmanship, design, age, condition, size, & woods used. To value the tables individually we would need to inspect each piece in person. The tables are very nice and in todays market would bring a modest price at auction. Hope this information is helpful, let me know if there is anything else we can help with.
Assistant Vice President of Estates
John Moran Auctioneers Inc.
735 West Woodbury Road
Altadena CA 91001
While this information was appreciated, I have to confess I was disappointed in the lack of responses and that no one could provide the name of an expert for ivory inlaid tables. (Correction: Two days later I received a response from an appraiser who said the world's expert on these tables is Dr. Amin Jaffer, who works for Christie's in New York. I tried finding an email address for him but failed.)
Christies Auction House Sale Record!
AN INDIAN HARDWOOD AND IVORY INLAID CIRCULAR OCCASIONAL TABLE
LATE 19TH EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Enlarge & Zoom Price Realized (Set Currency)
Sales totals are hammer price plus buyers premium and do not reflect costs, financing fees or application of buyers or sellers credits.
Estimate £1,000 - £1,500
($1,500 - $2,200)
Christie's Interiors - Style & Spirit
12 May 2009
London, South Kensington
AN INDIAN HARDWOOD AND IVORY INLAID CIRCULAR OCCASIONAL TABLE
LATE 19TH EARLY 20TH CENTURY
The ivory inlay decoration centred with a floral spiral surrounded by elephants and trees, the legs carved in the form of elephant heads with bone tusks and a similar ivory inlay overall
24 in. (61 cm.) high; 24 in. (61 cm.) diametre
Suzanna Sineone found this record and sent me the URL (http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5198556). Thanks. Suzanna!
Ivory, Bone or Plastic?
The material used in "ivory" inlaid tables can play an important role in determining the table's value or, if it really is true ivory, if it's legal to own or sell. An ivory expert with a microscope can tell the differences by studying the grain pattern of the material in question. The rest of us are going to have a harder time. This is particularly problematic with inlaid tables because the pieces of material are so small and are glued into the surface of the table so only one side can be viewed.
I've heard that if you heat a pin red hot then touch it to the material in question, nothing will happen if it's ivory or bone. If it's plastic, it'll dent and may even melt. I tried this on my table with inconclusive results. One piece of inlay didn't react to the hot pin, another identical to the first let the pin push in very easily leaving a tiny, soot covered pin hole. The test says the pin should just leave a dent, not a hole. While it's possible the second piece was a plastic restoration, it looks so much like the first that I find it hard to believe. One possible explanation is the second test just happened to enter at a naturally occurring pore that let it slide in with ease. Either way I didn't find this test as black-and-white as it was presented to be.
One possible test to determine whether or not an inlay is bone or ivory is to shine a bright ultraviolet light on it. Real ivory should glow bright blue, at least according to several Google searches I conducted. Fake ivory made from plastic glows a dull blue. Bone glows weakly in colors varying from green to yellow-purple to deep purple. The problem with bone is that the color varies with the animal, what it ate and how the bone was treated. I tried this test with both fluorescent and LED fluorescent black light bulbs and neither produced any glow when shone on my table. The bulbs produced bright glows when placed near know fluorescent materials so I know that they were working. The only light my inlays gave off was by reflecting the weak violet light blacklight sources emit. This test may require a high power ultraviolet source. If so, then it makes it of dubious value because most people aren't going to have access to such devices.
So far I have to say that the tests for identifying the inlay materials have fallen far short of being satisfactory. If anyone knows how to make these tests work, or knows of other more reliable test, I'd appreciate an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) describing them.
If you have a table that contains real elephant ivory, the next problem is it's legality. This is where things get tricky because legality is determined by the type of ivory, how old it is and the date it was exported. The following URL explains the problem as clearly as any I've read to date: www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/fts/chattanooga_200804A10.html
The most important information is in the following chart borrowed from this article:
Following this chart the author, Mr. Ben Phelan, emphasizes the critical importance of sales records to substantiate the history of the table. Lacking this, you may be severely limited in options when it comes to selling such tables officially. That being said, the author also states that there are no ivory police who are breaking down people's doors and searching their houses for illicit ivory inlaid tables.
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