The masticating teeth of some of the large animals are occasionally used as ivory; those of the spermaceti whale are of a flattened oval section, and resemble ivory in substance; but they are dark-coloured towards the center, and surrounded by an oval band of white ivory, like that of the aquatic varieties generally; they arc not much used.
The grinders of the elephant are occasionally worked; but their triple structure of plates of the hard enamel, of softer ivory, and of still softer cement, which do not unite in a perfect manner, render them uneven in texture. Owing to the hardness of the plates of enamel, the grinders are generally worked by the tools of the lapidary; they are but little used, and when divided into thin plates are disposed to separate, from change of atmosphere, the union of their respective parts being somewhat imperfect. They are made into small ornaments, knife-handles and boxes, which are occasionally imported.*
* The enamel of the hippopotamus is much thicker, but similar to that of the generality of masticating teeth, which is found upon analysis to agree very nearly with the hard porcelanous sheels. The enamel is sometimes scaled off by driving a thin chisel between it and the ivory; and I learn, the flame of the blowpipe is likewise frequently used for the purpose of separating it. Several of the other teeth have enamel, but the semicircular tooth by far the most abundantly.
The tusk of the elephant is, however, of far more importance than all these other kinds of ivory, and appears to have been extensively used by the Greeks and Romans. Amongst the former, Phidias was famous for his statues, thrones, and other works of embellishment, made in ivory combined with gold, an art described as the Toreutic. In reference to the construction of ivory statues, Monsieur Quatremiere de Quincy, in his great work on ancient sculpture †, advances some curious speculations of their having been formed upon centers or cores of wood, covered with plates of ivory; and also that the ancients were enabled to procure larger elephants' teeth, or possessed the means of softening and flattening out those of ordinary size, from which to obtain the pieces presumed to have been thus employed.
These questionable suppositions, particularly the last, scarcely seem called for, as solid blocks of ivory of the sizes commonly met with, would appear to be sufficient for the construction of colossal figures, in the mode ingeniously demonstrated by M. de Quincy in his plates 26 to 31. It is much to be regretted that none of these statues have descended to our times.
One of the constituent parts of ivory being animal matter, we should naturally expect it to be less durable than the inorganic materials, in which numerous fine specimens of ancient art still exist in great comparative perfection J. Ivory appears not to suffer very rapid decay, in the lengthened deposition in the frozen earth of Siberia, nor when immetaed in water; but various specimens in the British Museum, apparently less favourably situated, and in contact with the air, exhibit the effect of time, the ivory being decomposed and divided into flakes and pieces which exhibit its lamellated structure in a very satisfactory manner.*
* These grinders contain in themselves the principal characters of the entire group of teeth and tusks, and when used by the animal their unequal degree of hardness continually preserves the ridges of the enamel, that refuse to wear away so readily as the softer parts, and thus converts the surfaces of the teeth into furrows like mill-stones for bruising graminivorous food.
† Le Jupiter Olympien, ou l'Art de la Sculpture Antique. Paris, 1815.
‡ At the present day, Mr. Benjamin Cheverton copies various works sculptured in marble, and other materials, upon a reduced scale in ivory, alabaster, and even marble, by means of mechanism perfected by himself. His miniature busts possess a degree of faithfulness and perfection that leaves nothing to be desired.
In reference to the supply of the recent ivory, from Asia and Africa, Mr. M'Culloch says, -
"The duty of one pound per hundred weight † on elephants' teeth, produced, in 1830, 3721l., showing that the quantity consumed amounted to as many hundred weights, or to 416,7521b. The average weight of an elephant's tusk may be taken at about 601b.; so that 6946 tusks must have been required to furnish this supply of ivory, - a fact which supposes the destruction of 3473 male elephants ! But the destruction is really much greater; and would probably amount to, at least, between 5,000 and 6,000 elephants. If, to the quantity of ivory required for Great Britain, we add that required for other countries of Europe, America, and Asia, the slaughter of this noble animal will appear immense; and it may well excite surprise, that the breed has not been more diminished." ‡
It is probable Mr. M'Culloch's estimate of GO lb., as the average weight of teeth, is far too high, and from the observation of merchants well qualified to judge, it appears that 15 or 16 lb. would be nearer the average; if so, even the above numbers would be quadrupled. §
* North Gallery. Room II., Wall case 2. † The duty on Ivory was reduced one shilling per cwt, and then removed in 1845.
‡ M. Culloch's Dictionary of Commerce, 1832, p. 691. § Africa is considered to produce ivory in much greater abundance than Asia, 1 generally of far better quality. The finest transparent ivory is principally collected along the Western coast of Africa, within ten degrees North and South of the equator. On this coast the ivory is considered to become more and more inferior in quality, and more broken, (apparently from hostile encounters,) with the in increase of northern latitude: that from Mogador being perhaps the worst The best white ivory is, for the most part, the produce of the eastern coast of Africa generally, and until recently was imported almost exclusively from Bombay; of Into years it has been partially collected along the coast and on the Island of Madagascar: very inferior ivory is however sometimes received from these localities, and only a small quantity is now obtained from the Cape of Good Hope