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Ted H

The Price Of Sperm Whale Jawbone And Teeth In Nz

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Carvers in NZ are sometimes able to get their hands on jawbone or teeth due to sperm whales beaching themselves. As most of us know, any beached whale becomes the property of DOC (Department of Conservation), and DOC usually gift the jawbones to the local maori tribes who dole them out to carvers or store them as they see fit. According to the CITES international agreement, no trade is allowed in these items. However I have seen many whalebone carvings in our tourist shops, most with high prices on them, and I wondered if there is any scale of pricing per kg among carvers here. I ask because I was gifted half a jawbone in return for doing some carving for my tribe, and seeing as I don't really need it, I would like to sell parts of it.

I myself value jawbone by the quality of it ie, its thickness, size and shape, age etc, and on a relative scale to greenstone. I've never bought greenstone by the kilo but have always thought that jawbone must be worth much more than it because greenstone can be had by just finding it on a beach, or by buying it by the tonne from Ngai Tahu, whereas jawbone can only be had by the whales beaching themselves. I hold jawbone to be worth 5 to 10 times the value of greenstone by weight, but I would like to hear the opinions of other carvers, in order to come to a consensus on price because at the moment there doesn't seem to be any agreed price, published or unpublished.

 

While I can't find a guide on jawbone per kilo, sperm whale teeth about 100mm - 120mm long seem to be reaching $300 each uncarved.

 

A guy came to me for advice about 5 years ago because he had a full jawbone he wanted to sell. I took a look at it and although it was large (about 2.5 metres long) it was quite thin overall with none of the thickness required for a mere or wahaika. Because of this I told him I'd give him $500 for it but felt that he should put it up on TradeMe just to see what he could get on there (this is before TradeMe put their ban on protected species auctions), which he did. He turned up a week or so later with a big smile on his face having sold it for $3500.

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Well, I have bought not long ago a couple of teeth, both quite good size, but not extraordinary, for $150 each. A few weeks later I went to an auction here (I'm in Dunedin), there were two more, slightly smaller teeth going, and it didn't even start, as the reserve was $1200 for the two. No-one, including me, was interested.

At another auction here, about a yesr ago, there was a Sperm Whale jawbone, some 2-2.5 meters, rather weathered, but probably only on the surface. It was the lower one, one half of it. (that is only the left side.) I bid up to $1000, couldn't afford more, and was outbid. Later I learned that a small museum got it. Also might add that the general punters stopped at about $200 or so, and it was between me and the museum afte that.

I think in general there is no set price as such. Maraes often give a tooth or two away as a present, to a carver, with the understanding that it will be turned into a Maori themed carving. Apart from the maraes there seems to be not that much teeth or bone sloshing around.

I also might add that in other areas, like Nelson, where there are considerably more carvers, the price would be substentially higher.

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I think with whalebone, a price should be made from the heart, not the head. There is such a spiritual connection with whales that no set price would be appropriate. What it worth thousands of dollars to me, is a lot less to the next person. I've attained most of my whalebone from trade or koha, and although I happily sell my work after I have contributed my creative input, I would never be able to charge someone else for raw materials. Please believe me Ted when I say that I'm not trying to talk you into giving me any of the bone. And I don't resent or think of you differently for wanting to sell the bone and make a profit, good on you. But, if I was to be honest, and it was me, I would suggest that the whalebone you have, that was originally given to you as koha, it might be appropriate that it is now also passed on as koha. I'm sure that would please the ancestors, and the spirit of the whale. Good luck with your decision, and I hope everyone involved are happy.

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Kia ora guys

Thanks for your input. Much as I would like to give it away Billy I have a family to feed, and its sort of peculiar how some ppl go on about the spiritual side of whalebone but when it really comes down to it, cash is king and their side of the story (ie price) suddenly becomes inflexible. I say this because I recently gave a carver 5 teeth to sell on behalf of me, at an agreed $300 each. I also gave him an exquisite length of jawbone I'd fashioned into a walking stick, and asked him to carve a maori figure into it. This wouldn't have taken him more than 4-5 hours. His price? $400. A bit over the top you might say...? then a few weeks later after he'd sold the teeth it turned into $1000. And this is after I'd given him a tooth and promised him more work.

So I've given up being mr nice guy when dealing with people who talk the talk but won't walk the walk. I still feel that jawbone is worth 5-10 times the price of good quality greenstone.

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There are some rouges out there Ted - agreed. But I think we were brought up in different villages. Good luck.

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I say, I say...

Prices (or, rather, some people's idea of prices) are getting ridiculous round here. I just checked Trademe (the local equivalent of ebay) for ivory of any kind. Well, there was a whaletooth. It's been removed, as Trademe, just like ebay, has a policy of not allowing endangered species trade. (even if the tooth obviously cannot have been hunted recently, but that's a different issue...) Anyway, the asking price was NZ$2000.00 That at present exchange rates would make roughly 1600.00 US$. I find it ridiculous.

There also is a pair of what is described as Vanuatu full circle pigtusks. Two of them. Well, they are full circle, but only just. In Vanuatu the really prestigious pigtusk pairs have complete or nearly complete two full circles. Anyway, the asking price is 1500.00$. NZ, of course. Unless the seller chances onto a museum curator dead set on acquiring a pair of pigtusks that can be palmed off as Vanuatu ones, and can actually persuade the commitee to fork out the money, his chances of making a sale are rather slim.

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Yes I saw that auction. I think it was a rather large tooth from a fully grown bull sperm whale but yeah the price was ridiculous. I know the prices for old (pre 1900) scrimshawed teeth can be astronomical sometimes. I heard of one such specimen that went off at auction in the USA for USD$80,000.

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I know about the prices for scrimshaw. The whole point is that it is scrimshaw. And it needs to be rare/antique/exceptional to reach the astronomical prices that sometimes it manages to command. Most scrimshaw has a rather lower price tag.

 

I have the impression that some people think now that bone and ivory carving is thriving in NZ, the sky is the limit. They unfortunately are wrong. Neither carvers, nor most people buying have unlimited resources. Unfortunately.

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I think that the art is thriving but the market isn't. With the economy the way it is I'm surprised anyone's making $$$. But we live in hope.

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