How to Identify Real Walrus Ivory

Written by graham rix
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How to Identify Real Walrus Ivory
This photograph shows a walrus with tusks of average size. (walrus image by Gail Johnson from

The canine teeth of both male and female walruses extend to form long ivory tusks. In the 18th and 19th centuries, walrus tusks were used by sailors to create pieces of folk art known as scrimshaw, their designs - scratched out with a needle or small knife as a way of passing the time. These scrimshaw etchings often depicted ships, whaling scenes and loved ones. Scrimshaw done on real ivory is highly valuable and also widely faked, so being able to tell real walrus ivory from resin replicas is extremely useful.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Examine the size and shape of the item. The average walrus tusk is 14 inches long. A tusk of much greater length would be a prized rarity and should therefore be treated with suspicion, and considered as a possible fake.

  2. 2

    Inspect the tusk for any cracks. Real ivory often warps some with age. The presence of cracks is often a sign of authenticity. However, it is not a definitive one, as some fakes have cracks to help create a more authentic appearance.

  3. 3

    Look at the colour of the piece of ivory. Resin fakes tend to be either extremely pale or to have been stained an even yellow-brown. Fakes ivory often has a consistent patina. Real walrus ivory will have a more complex patina, with the stains tending to follow the path of cracks and/or blemishes. Real ivory is not perfect and contains blemishes, this is another identifying factor.

  4. 4

    Turn the tusk in the light. Like wood, real ivory has a delicate grain. This is something that the manufacturers of resin fakes have not managed to reproduce.

  5. 5

    Heat up a pin and insert it into the base of the tusk. If there is a puff of smoke and an acrid smell, then you're holding a piece of resin.

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