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Figural Crochet Hooks & Information on Identifying Ivory & Bone with Overview of US trade laws related to Worked Elephant Ivory

From the Victorian era (starting in1837) into the early 20th century highly decorative crochet hooks were fashionable. They were made of, or decorated with, a variety of exotic materials. Figural crochet hooks from that era were particularly desirable and usually were made of bone or elephant ivory..

ANTIQUE FIGURAL CROCHET HOOKS: Top) Carved ivory closed umbrella with Stanhope & celluloid hook, handle unscrews to reveal hollow area for storing needles; Middle) Carved & painted ivory flying bird; Bottom) Carved bone Sitting bird.

ANTIQUE FIGURAL CROCHET HOOKS: Top) Carved & painted ivory hand; Middle) Carved bone hand; Bottom) Carved ivory hand on shaft with squirrel on top.

ANTIQUE FIGURAL CROCHET HOOKS: Silver-plated dragon and Carved bone dog.

Since ivory may be subject to trade restrictions, it is useful to be able to identify ivory and bone and to have a general knowledge of trade laws. It is a common misconception that it is illegal to own ivory. However, it is true that it has become increasingly difficult to collect ivory since worldwide trade bans have been imposed, and particularly since eBay banned the sale of elephant, hippopotamus, mammoth, whale, warthog, and walrus ivory and bone. Here is an overview on identifying bone, elephant ivory, and synthetics by non-destructive means, and a brief summary of US laws for “worked” (carved or scrimshawed) elephant ivory. However, if buying or selling ivory you should seek the detailed laws for your specific locality and type of ivory.

The most definitive way to identity bone, ivory, and synthetics is by burning or hot needle testing. Information on destructive identification methodology is not covered here, but is readily available on the Internet.

Unlike ivory, bones and antlers have tiny nerve canals running through them. These canals are usually slightly darkened, but may be bleached. A 10X hand lens is adequate to see canals or pitting on the surface of the bone or antler. Bones are dryer, more coarsely-textured, and more brittle than ivory. Antler is often darker than bone and has a hard finely-honeycombed center. Bone and antler are not controlled and are legal to sell interstate and internationally.

Ivory takes on a greater polish than bone and has parallel lines that run the length of the tooth or tusk. In elephant ivory, perpendicular to those parallel lines is a cross-grain pattern forming angles. The cross-grain angles are less than 90 degrees for modern elephants and greater than 120 degrees for mammoth/mastodon ivory. It is legal to own, sell interstate, and to export all antique (aged 100 years or more) ivory, however documentation may be required. Most figural ivory crochet hooks fall under this category. Mammoth and mastodon (10,000-40,000 years old) ivory, which may or may not have darkened, is completely unrestricted. Since 1989 African elephant ivory cannot be imported into the US, nor can it be bought or sold internationally. However, that which was legally imported, may be bought, sold, or shipped within the US without permits or registration. Asian elephant ivory has similar restrictions but it has been illegal to sell interstate since 1976. (It is still legal to sell intrastate where state laws do not prohibit.) Asian elephant ivory is impossible to distinguish from African without specialized equipment. Other types of ivory have different characteristics and different, but simarlarly detailed restrictions.

Celluloid was invented in 1865 but was not commonly used until the end of the 19th century. Since then numerous varieties of synthetics have been developed, including some simulated ivories with names like “French Ivory“, “Ivoride”, and “Ivorine“, that have grain patterns that tend to be more regular than the grain patterns of the real thing. Some, but not all, synthetics are lighter in weight than ivory. Most polymers feel cold, hard, or dense.

Around the 1920’s or 1930’s figural crochet hooks decreased in popularity. However, with today’s heightened popularity of crochet and with new venues available through the Internet, there is a growing market for newly-produced artistic figural hooks, especially those depicting animals. Modern figural crochet hooks are most commonly made of wood and occaisionally of bone.

CONTEMPORARY FIGURAL CROCHET HOOK: Carved wooden flying Eagle, unknown artist.

CONTEMPORARY FIGURAL CROCHET HOOKS: Top) Carved wooden cat with metal hook, custom made by Cherie Marie Leck of http://www.craftdesigns4you.com; Middle) Carved wooden hook topped with glass cat from eBay: Vermont_woodwork; Bottom) Carved wooden Babushka complete with velvet bow made by Emillie Reader from Etsy: sailonbaby.

CONTEMPORARY FIGURAL CROCHET HOOKS: Carved wooden owl & swan from http://www.paradisefibers.net,

CONTEMPORARY FIGURAL CROCHET HOOKS: Carved wood & bone frog and Carved bone mask made in Indonesia from eBay: qualityfibers,

NEWEST ACQUISITIONS - FIGURAL CROCHET HOOKS: 9 & 10) Two vintage bone hooks with carved men on top. 11): Whales carved from antler by Kudloo Palituq of Canada Eskimo Art in 1960’s,

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Comment by Karen C.K. Ballard on January 14, 2010 at 5:00pm
Hi Pamela, Thank you for your feedback. I just became a regular columnist for the Crochet Guild of America's (CGOA's) ChainLink Newsletter. I wrote this blog to provide elaborating information to my first column in the newsletter to be published in the March/April 2010 issue. Are you a member of CGOA? Regards, Karen
Comment by Pamela J Hewitt on January 14, 2010 at 2:05pm
Thank you for the great information. I have a small collection of bone crochet hooks, none are as beautiful as yours. I Love to crochet, and inherited my grandmothers crochet hooks.

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