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How To Tell Authentic Ivory From Fake - Dream Art Gallery

Ivory is one of the hardest organic materials in existence, but it has very poor elastic properties. Any area which is under pressure or tension is therefore subject to the formation of cracks.

The regions most exposed to the danger of cracking are holes for hanging or securing other objects like hinges, handles, metal ornaments etc. Forgeries do not present cracks in these regions. But cracks ( craquelure) can also be imitated. This is why they should always be carefully examinated with help of a magnifying glass. A natural craquelure creates narrow cracks with sharp edges and contours, while a simulated craquelure made with a knife has splayed and rounded contours.

Moreover, natural cracks almost always start out from the base or edge of the object, which are more subject to the influence of humidity and contamination. The underside of the base is particularly exposed to moisture, so that very old ivory gets damaged there by crack running right across. Forgers create cracks by dipping the objects into hot and cold liquids in rapid succession and then colouring them black. The distribution of fissures of this kind does not follow the same logic as those that have formed naturally.

Synthetic ivory can be recognized immediately with the help of two simple tests:


A simple and practical tes is heating a needle or nail by holding it over a flame with a pair of pincer and then pressing the point against the object. Plastic is easily penetrated by the glowing needle and gives off a pungent, unpleasant odour and some smoke. The same needle barely deforms ivory, leaving only a small black point and a slight smell similar to that of singed fingernails.

Ultraviolet light:

A normal UV lamp, like those used for suntanning, makes natural materials fluoresce to a light colour, while synthetic materials, instead, show up darker

Please don't hesitate to contact us should you have any queries about Asian Art. Dream Art Gallery has 20 years of experience in studying and collecting Asian Art. Established in 1999 as online gallery Dream Art Gallery specialises in exclusive Chinese ceramics and works of art from the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Best Regards

Daniel Turriani

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Comment by Les Beyer on August 28, 2009 at 7:11pm
A UV lamp... I like that idea better than heat for a small object. Thanks for the information.

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