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Whale Teeth & Elephant Ivory


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I received this news article from a dealer/collector of netsuke. He received this from a respected source who is a co-founder of the International Ivory Society:


Paying a high price for a dying art: Thanks to (a member of the IIS) for sending this in.


International Ivory society IIS Newsletter 2008-30:

NANTUCKET - The sun had just risen over this elbow of sand last month when a team of armed law enforcement officers from four agencies descended on a cedar-shingled cottage.


The man they were after was Charles Manghis, a bearded artisan once commissioned to carve the presidential seal into whale teeth for both presidents Bush and whose work can sell for thousands of dollars. One of only a handful of the remaining practitioners of a folk art that dates back to Nantucket's whaling heyday, he spends his days hunched over a magnifying glass scratching designs into whale teeth - or extolling, in lectures, an art form many say is dying. He does not seem the likely target of a raid.


But Manghis stands accused of an uncommon crime: dealing in black market whale teeth. On April 23, a federal grand jury indicted him and a Ukrainian national on charges of conspiracy, smuggling, and making false statements to federal agents.


He was arrested the next day, and officers say over the course of their investigation they seized 375 whale teeth, along with pieces of elephant ivory, from his home and from buyers he allegedly sold to in a half-dozen states. Authorities say it is one of the largest such cases ever brought forward. If convicted on the 11 counts in the indictment, Manghis could face up to 25 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.



The arrest has both shocked the island, home of one of the world's most extensive scrimshaw collections, and reignited talk about the difficulty of an art whose raw material traditionally comes from endangered sea animals.


Federal authorities had been investigating Manghis for several years after receiving a tip that he was buying black market ivory from an international smuggling ring. According to the indictment, he arranged seven deals to buy whale teeth from a Ukrainian seller between July 2002 and June 2005, violating the Endangered Species Act and international prohibitions that severely restrict sales of whale teeth and other forms of ivory.


Using the e-mail address whaleivory@attdi.com, the indictment alleges, Manghis arranged to have the teeth shipped to him through a middleman in California, a move apparently meant to disguise their origin. It is legal under certain circumstances to purchase whale teeth domestically. The indictment depicts Manghis's communications with the Ukrainian seller as being similar to a mail-order catalog.


In one e-mail, he allegedly requested 24 1-pound teeth and also "the next smaller size," the indictment says.


Manghis, who pleaded not guilty in US District Court and was released on $25,000 bond, did not return a call or an e-mail this week. His attorney, John J. Regan of Peabody, also did not return a phone call or respond to an e-mail requesting an interview.


Nantucket, once the world's leading whaling port, is to scrimshaw what Paris is to Impressionism. Whalers of the 19th century, plagued by boredom and loneliness on voyages that often lasted years, pioneered the art form, painstakingly scratching elaborate images of loved ones, maritime scenes, and exotic lands into the teeth and bones of the animals that drew them so far from home. Whalers crafted anything from pie crimpers to hat pins and corset stays from the bones and teeth of whales.


"By the 1840s it was rare for a whaleman to go to sea and not try it," said Stuart Frank, senior curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

When whaling died out in the 1930s, the craft was carried on largely by whalers' descendants, many of whom had never been to sea themselves.

"Manghis is one of a group of artists producing decorations for people who have nice summer houses," Frank said.


For the small group of scrimshanders who still practice on Nantucket, continuing to carve ivory is about preserving a way of life and an art form.


"It's sort of my legacy," said Lee Papale, a fifth generation Nantucketer who grew up working in the scrimshaw workshop of her aunt, Nancy Chase, and then became a scrimshander herself.


Whale teeth were once so common in Nantucket that they were used as door stops and sold in tourist traps all over the island. But they are increasingly difficult to come by.


Since prohibitions on trade in whale products in the Endangered Species Act and an international ban on ivory trading in the 1970s, scrimshanders have been limited to purchasing antique whale teeth and other kinds of ivory.


"When I was a kid, whales' teeth were a dime a dozen," said Michael Vienneau, a Nantucket scrimshander of 30 years who recalls going through barrels of them in a friend's basement. "Those days are gone."

Scrimshanders now comb estate sales, buy from collectors or rely on stockpiles that have been handed down through generations. Today, an antique 7-inch sperm whale tooth sells for close to $1,000.

Many have turned to other forms of ivory, including the fossilized bones and teeth of prehistoric animals.


Illegal imported ivory is known to be available, but the price of getting caught is steep.


"If you say, 'It came from Russia,' I say, "See you later," Vienneau said. "Importing it is stupid, there's too much to lose." Manghis, celebrated as a master of his craft, has spoken widely about his art in the past.


"I see myself as a bridge," Manghis told the New York Times in 2004, referring to the connection between modern artists and the historic whalers. "I work with very traditional materials, do painstaking research and strive for historic accuracy."


At other times, he has spoken about the frustrations of getting material.

"At this point, the whales are in great shape, and that's a good thing," Manghis told the Nantucket Independent newspaper in 2006. "But the art form is probably endangered."


Among Nantucket scrimshanders, many share the view that the art is endangered and can see the day when no more teeth are available.

"This is my life's collection," Vienneau said, looking around his small shop on Old South Wharf. Of the hundreds of pieces in the shop, only a few of teeth and one piece of jawbone remain to be carved on.

"When it's gone, it's gone," he said.



I found another article to back this one up: Click Here




I have posted these as a word of caution, and pointing out that there is real activity occurring regarding such materials.



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  • 3 months later...

Alternative Ivory , Col. 849/TM , Polyester Resins


A specially cast polyester with the full and varied characteristics of real ivory.

Perfect for machining, drilling, threading, boring and specialised turning.





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Hi all, i work on elephant ivory since many years and during all the time, i never find another raw like ivory. I try micarta, tanga nut, mammouth, phacochere, nothing is realy like ivory. Ivory is the better raw, you can make a lot of details, the touch is particular and ivory is the first raw that a man carved. I think that mammouth is the most similar, but you must find nice pieces and that's expansive.

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(sorry for my english, I hope you will understand...)


Working on ivory begins to be difficult today...

I have a big old elephant tusk with cites, which I could use for a lot of years, but it's really difficult for business: CITES is ok for the one country, if I want to sale the piece at foreign, I must ask a new citec for each piece...

I think mammoth ivory is the best solution, it's a good ivory for carving, and there is no problem for customs (when they know mammoth... :o ). The problem in this moment is to find good quality of mammoth, particularly with big white piece for carving...

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