Well, it is a very pertinent question and we get a host of queries from people all over the world asking whether the sale of ivory is illegal. However, I’ll like to clarify that ONLY elephant ivory is illegal for trade/sale/purchase while mammoth tusk ivory is the only LEGAL ivory in the world.
In the last few weeks, there have been changes in the U.S regulations of elephant ivory trade, banning it completely. Thus, if you are trying to sell old, pre-1989 elephant ivory, it would still be illegal to do so. But if you have mammoth ivory art pieces or even in raw form, you can sell it with ease.
The major reason for this demarcation is that elephants are still being illegally killed for ivory and by actively banning its sale and purchase including old ivory products; maybe elephant tusks would lose their charm.
On the other hand, when mammoth tusk ivory is readily available with the same luster and shine, add to it the historic value, why even bother about elephant ivory? By legal ivory, enjoy it, sell it or pass it down the generations as heirlooms.
If you have seen mammoth ivory sculptures with hues of blue, grey or brown, you might be wondering about the authenticity of the ivory. No, it is not a fake. Mammoth ivory is sourced from the skeletal remains of wooly mammoths that lay buried in the Tundra permafrost ever since the last Ice Age ended. Most of the tusks found in Siberia date around 10,000 to 40,000 years ago and as the mammoths are an extinct species, it is perfectly legal to trade in it unlike elephant ivory.
Mammoth ivory is harder than elephant ivory and most of it comes with a slight brown discoloration due to being buried in the mineral rich permafrost for centuries. The bark or the external layer of ivory absorbed the minerals in the soil and has a range of distinctive coloration depending upon the particular minerals in the soil where the mammoth tusks lay buried. That is the reason that there are different hues available in mammoth ivory. A versatile range of colored mammoth ivory is used as knife handles, pistol handles and mammoth ivory beads.
Although pure white ivory tusks commands a higher price but colored mammoth tusk ivory is not fake or painted. Most of the commonly available pieces of tusks have an outer bark which is brown. Some artists like to leave the tusks with the brown exterior on the sides and at the bottom, while carving through the layers of ivory in the middle, bringing to the forefront the rich luster of delicate workmanship and polished ivory. Browse a large range of sculpted mammoth tusk and carvings at http://www.mammothivory.info
Just like wood, ivory can be cut with the same tools. From hacksaw with rough and course teeth to delicate jewelers saw and in case you need slabs; a band saw might be the right tool. For smooth cuts, it is best to have tools with more teeth and that requires low amount of sanding.
When you cut large tusk into sections, it is important to seal the ivory pores to prevent the ivory from cracking and drying out quickly. Most of the sculptors use white glue to seal the ends while the use of varnish and hot wax is not uncommon.
While cutting tusk sections, ensure that you don’t run the saw too fast through the ivory as it makes wavy cuts. Use a light hand with steady grip and speed to cut through ivory as it is very dense. After the ivory is cut, it needs to be maintained in good condition to be crafted in different forms, including sculptures, knife handles, scrimshaws and more.
The most important aspect is to retain the humidity within the ivory and carvers use mineral oil to prevent cracks and shrinkage. But this only works on thin slabs and sheets. The slabs and thin pieces are polished with mineral oil and then wiped with soft cotton cloth and zipped in plastic bags till further use. This ensures that no moisture escapes even after the ivory piece is sanded and polished, reducing the chances of cracks and shrinking.
As the lost moisture is replaced by oil and the luster is maintained as required. The key for storing ivory is about maintaining the moisture. Traditional Russian fossil ivory hunters soak the excavated tusks in water to help maintain the moisture before it is transported to carvers. See some of the most exquisite mammoth ivory carvings at http://www.mammothivory.info/