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Possible Ivory - Part of a cameo/pendant? I have questions!

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    Posted 7 years ago

    (58 items)

    Hi All

    Well this is something that I have acquired via my work. The first question is what it was made of - plastic, bone or ivory. After a search on the internet and a quick squint through my loupe, I discarded bone as there are no small holes and the surface is not rough. I then read that one way to check if it was plastic, or even bone for that matter, was using a hot pin. I tried this with a pin that was red hot and it made no mark and showed absolutely no sign of any effect once the pin was taken away. I tried it a couple times with the same result.

    So, question one is - is this test (beyond utilising major chemistry) confirmation that it is ivory? The colour is right (creamy yellow). It is hand carved as there is plenty of evidence when you look through a lense. It is a relatively smooth, almost waxy surface.

    Question 2 is, what is it? I have had a look around and it is the same shape and roughly same size as what would be a cameo pendant. But, most of these I have seen are of classical lady subjects, some religious items like angels and the like, but 95% are elegant Victorian ladies. So, why would there be one showing a man and 2 children? Going by the clothing they are wearing my guess on a date would be late 19th century, maybe 1870 - 1890ish? And, am I the only one that thinks the gentleman has a very strong resemblances to Abraham Lincoln?

    So, anything you can give me I would appreciate greatly.


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    1. kyratango kyratango, 7 years ago
      Really an unusual subject and interesting piece!
      I too thought the man looks like Abraham Lincoln :-)
      Your identification of ivory as the material is good!

      Perhaps Cameosleuth will have an idea about the group depicted here.
    2. IVAN49 IVAN49, 7 years ago
      Perfectly reliable test ! Hot pin would melt any plastic like butter. I think it`s UK Victorian miniature and nothing to do with American heritage.
      There are carved ivory Victorian portraits but this is almost the whole family. Very rare.
    3. Hamish Hamish, 7 years ago
      Thank you very much for the information. From what you say, this is basically similar to a small photo we would have in our wallets today or a miniature portrait of old which someone would keep with them as it was small and portable. The carving seems very fine, would this have been an unusual and relatively expensive was of creating a small portrait? I just assumed that the typical paintings were the norm as I have never seen a carved portrait before.
    4. IVAN49 IVAN49, 7 years ago
      They are rare compared with portraits painted on ivory, especially yours being complicated.
      It was probably set into frame or boxed.
      Two links to shed more light:

    5. shareurpassion shareurpassion, 7 years ago
      Awesome piece. Very good job with the post...10 points ;)
    6. Hamish Hamish, 7 years ago
      Thank you Ivan49, some great information. My only issue is whether it is actually Ivory or not. Yes I have done the pin test, but are there other materialist could be made from that would give the same 'no burning or leave any mark' result? I was also confused by the back which has the dark line running down as most of the ivory I see on the internet are flawless creamy white, and this is slightly more yellow/cream with the dark line at the back. Would a jeweller give me a definitive answer if I took it to one, or would they do the exact same test as me? I recently had a Jadeite carved necklace which I took to a jeweller and they said it was plastic (even I could tell it was stone), so I gave it to my brother who makes jewellery and is part of a lapadry stone group, and they all confirmed that it was Jade, and then a jeweller they know checked it and confirmed, so my confidence in them identifying things has taken a slight dip!
    7. SpiritBear, 7 years ago
      One talented artist. From experience, hand-carving is not easy, especially in something solid.
      The stain on the back could be from how it was mounted, if whatever was touching it was acidic. The front may have been cleaned a lot, preventing it from staining and further smoothing the surface.
      What is your occupation?
    8. IVAN49 IVAN49, 7 years ago
      Hello again,
      In regard of material, there is bone similar to ivory. Take a look here:
      Pay attention to Schreger lines described in the link and depicted elsewhere but sometimes they are difficult to identify (use 10X loupe).
      I repair old jewelry and work with a jeweler in his workshop and I can tell you they are not familiar with ivory and even gems (unless they have electronic tester for diamonds). They are mostly retailers and jewelry is made elsewhere on industrial scale.
      Discoloration of ivory is common.
      I have several items and miniatures on ivory and I relied on hot needle test to exclude plastic, celluloid etc. Every synthetic material would melt easily and exact nature of bone or tusk is not too important if the object is artistically done.

    9. Hamish Hamish, 7 years ago
      Well THERE is a minefield if ever I seen one, and looks a little too complex for me. I'll have a look later but unlikely to shed any light.

      As for my work, I am a freelance Asbestos Consultant and have been for 18 years. Survey structures (i've surveyed everything from houses and mansions to ships and oil refineries both in the UK and abroad, as far afield as the US and the Middle East) and conduct contamination investigations plus manage removal projects etc. Slightly different from my Royal Navy days.
    10. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      For some reason I often do not get posts in real time. Although I have checked this page several times in the last few days, I am only seeing this now.

      I agree with all the comments made so far. It is an ivory portrait of what is probably an English father with his children. The problem with identifying portrait subjects, particularly male subjects, is that they were made for private individuals of means, not necessarily public figures, & fashions in clothing & facial hair were adopted widely, so that Mr. Smith can easily look like Mr. Lincoln.

      For other cameo comparisons, see:
      And also:
      In particular, see:

      The lines & yellowing of your piece are consistent with ivory as it ages. Old Celluloid can look amazingly similar, but it is much lighter in the hand - ivory is dense & heavy for its size - & the lines in Celluloid are very regular, continuous & parallel. The lines in ivory are more straggly. The distinctive crosshatch Schreger lines are only visible on surfaces exposed by cutting across the grain. You might just spot hints of them if you look at high points of the cameo edge on.

      Really excellent work. Love the documentation that 'man spread' is nothing new. :)
    11. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      Oh, & if you're wondering how in the world the cameo cutter got his subjects to stay still long enough to make their portrait, he did not have to; he worked from a photograph. Suspect this cameo is English work, but Roman cameo artists also supplemented their income by doing portraits for tourists. When you look at old travelers' guide books, you find photographer's studios at addresses not far from the cameo workshops.
    12. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      And...jewellers & auction house 'experts' misidentify cameo materials fairly often. This was sold as Celluloid:
      It most definitely is not.
    13. Hamish Hamish, 7 years ago
      Thank you very much for all the information cameosleuth, it's been hugely helpful. And thanks to all who posted, your expertise is much appreciate. I guess the question now is what to do with it. As much as I admire the craftsmanship it just doesn't do much for me, and I'd rather it went to someone who would appreciate it. If I kept it then it would likely just spend time in a drawer, which is a waste.

      I shall do some research. cameosleuth, would I require some kind of documentation as to it's material prior to it being offered for sale?
    14. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      I'm not qualified to give legal advice, which does not stop me.

      First, more than you ever wanted to know about ivories & ivory imitations:

      I believe British law is less restrictive, but US law on the sale of ivory has become very stringent:

      I have no doubt the piece is a natural material. Not only is the appearance consistent, this is not something that would have been mass produced. It is collectible now, but at the time, who else but the family would have wanted it? As you said, it served the same function as a photo. The sentimental mother may have worn it as a brooch. If he often had to be away from home, a doting father may have brought it along in a custom made case & placed it on his hotel bedside table. Some such pieces are set in frames for hanging on the wall. Or it may have been commissioned, then never set at all. (If it was inherited by the person from whom you acquired it, there is a strong possibility the man & his children are relatives of that person.) Also, for the bother of making a mold, the artisan might as well cut the cameo. The depth of the carving argues for ivory & against bone, which does not yield such thick workable sections. Check the bottom of the baby’s feet for Schreger lines. Absence not meaningful, but presence confirmation of ivory.

      I also have no doubt the piece was made at the same time the clothes, hairstyles & having your portrait done in ivory were in fashion & is not a knockoff from Asia. Alas, to the best of my knowledge, the intrinsic nature of the piece itself is not accepted as ‘documentation’ of age & origin by US enforcement guidelines. Legal advice: look into UK regulations on this matter. You cannot legally import the cameo into the US. Think it would sell quite well on eBay or similar site.
    15. Hamish Hamish, 7 years ago
      Your Information and expertise is brilliant and I can't thank you enough. I'll do some research and decide what to do.

      Thank you to everyone who posted.
    16. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      I put it on the Pinterest boards for ivory cameos & Victorian gentlemen with a link to this page. Neither board gets all that much traffic, but how much attention he attracts will be a good indicator of how well he will sell. :)

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