Part 2: Key Antique Objects Made from Animals and Plants

In my recent post (Controversial Collecting – What on Earth is this object made of?) I touched on the idea that it is worthwhile when you don’t know what you are looking at to really question it or better yet ask someone about its origin.

After all you cannot undo buying something in a market or at a sale as easy as exchange at the shopping mall.

A few years ago I will admit I had an infatuation with collecting all things with an African influence. My entire home was filled with masks, carved knick knacks and a plethora of wooden wonders – you name it, I had it. The Elephant is my favourite animal of all time so anything Elephant in my collection was favoured including gifts I received over the years making reference to the Asian Elephant.

Months ago I recall watching a television show on storage lockers whereby the lock was removed and the people who bought it were astonished to find a bunch of taxidermy animals inside, including a large wild cat. Local authorities immediately had to investigate and rightfully so. Needless to say the contents were not worth what the buyers had hoped. It was a lesson that this kind of collecting can fall into a niche market and the niche is very regulated.

As awareness has been raised globally around the protection of plants and animals I became quite curious to uncover what Antique & Vintage objects may have been made (utilizing these organisms) before certain controls were put in place. It continually shocks me what falls on this growing list.

African & Indian Elephant ivory has been used in many smaller carved decorative objects such as statues. High end piano keys, billiard balls and other musical instruments as well as sports related items also were made of or contained ivory at one point in history. Walrus ivory was also used in the making of small objects while Hippopotamus ivory gained popularity because it does not turn yellow with age. Scrimshaw carvings on the whales’ teeth dating back to the 1800’s were made of Sperm Whale ivory. A few other animals have also been impacted by the use of ivory in ornamental items such as Hogs, Boars and the extinct Mammoth.

The Rhinoceros horn is made of keratin and has been prized for its translucent color when carved and generally assumed healing properties. Meanwhile Tiger parts and products include skins, claws and teeth in the forms of charms, jewellery and various novelty items.

Larger species of Tortoise and Turtle (most noted the Hawksbill Sea Turtle) are associated with tortoise shell accessories. Old brushes, combs and jewellery are on the list as are more new age sunglasses frames. Tortoise shell guitar picks were very common in the twentieth century.

Wild Butterflies in frames, Bird eggs sitting in elaborate encasements and Coral jewellery can most often be found in original form. On a differing noted furniture created by Tropical Hardwoods is also something you can watch out for.

CITES also known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is a key player in the protection of plants and animals. Rainforest Relief raised their hand to bring awareness to the improper use of wood.

Next time when you pick up that strange object in the shape of an elephant make sure you are informed. Knowledge is power -I always say. Part 3 will touch on how to better understand real objects from fake objects.


I picture of a Tiger I painted last year. I love Tigers!
I picture of a Tiger I painted last year. I love Tigers!


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