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Ivory Objects: To Store or to Display?

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

My grandmother-in-law gave me a pair of ivory elephant figurines that her husband brought back from Thailand after WWII.  They seem to be in relatively good shape.


I'm redecorating my sewing room and I have them on display, next to two larger wooden elephants acquired the same way.  Elephants are kind of my thing, so I'm delighted to have them.  However, the proper care for ivory is to store it to protect it from humidity, dryness, light, air, heat, and oils.


I've always been a "What's the point of owning something if you never USE it" kind of person, so I feel that these figurines are better used by being on display.


However, since I would regard these figurines as heirlooms I'm wondering if I have a duty to store them so they can be passed on.


What do you guys think?

post #2 of 3

They were made to be displayed!


I, too, have ivory carvings, more than 30 (the tallest are about 16" high).  Mine are more than 100 years old and have been passed down to me from my late Mom.  There are gorgeous carvings of Chinese women, balls-within-balls-within-balls, and other beautiful examples of intricate ivory carving.  Most are elephant ivory, but I also have some made of walrus tusk.  I also have quite a bit of ivory jewelry (some old, some brought back to the states by my Dad when he returned from his Air Force tours in Vietnam).  I wear the newer jewelry, but keep the old stuff in a lovely display case.


I keep the carvings on display, but out of direct sunlight and away from our wood stove!  Most are on display in our guest room, which has a blue, white and pale yellow, semi-Asian theme.  I wipe them with distilled water and a clean cloth monthly (drying them right away, too).  I always wear cotton gloves when I do handle them.  Once a year, I give them a light rubbing with beeswax, to protect and moisturize them, buffing well to remove the excess.


We have low humidity where we live.  But, with the proper continued care, they are in wonderful condition.


I say display them (and care for them safely and correctly), so that you can enjoy seeing them daily.  I think this would pleased you gm in-law, as well!


If you have any concerns as to their value and condition, contact the museum in Portland (they have a rather nice ivory collection, as I recall).  The Smithsonian would also be a good contact as to their care, if you need more info!


One other thing, take photos of them for your insurance records and document their history (ask your gm to write it out for you)!! 

post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 

Wow, this is fabulous information, and some things I never thought of.  Contact the museum?  Genius!


I love these little elephants, it makes my day brighter to see them.  The bull elephant stands at 2.5", the cow at 1.5", thus fulfilling my loves of elephants and miniatures.


I have them in a room with two windows, the large one faces south and the small faces east.  Do you think this is too bright?  In the winter we run a dehumidifier, so I don't think humidity will be a problem.  However, I do have many plants in that room...


Anyways, I'll start by giving them a good cleaning, since I'm sure that's never happened.  Again, thanks for all the wonderful info.

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