......IVORY & SCRIMSHAW ......



QUICK LINKS: IVORY LAWS - Fossil Walrus - Boar Tusk - Whale teeth - Mammoth - Scrimshaw

charging bull elephant


Any and all Elephant Ivory is banned entry into or exported out of the USA.

The Obama administration on Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014 announced a ban on nearly all ivory sales in the United States. The ban is currently held up in the legal system.

President Obama has pledged U.S. support to help save the elephants and rhinos in Africa. He created a task force to work up a U.S. national strategy.  This strategy will change the regulations for interstate commerce of existing legally imported African elephant ivory. There is reason to believe there will be a ban on interstate sales of any African elephant ivory or objects made with it, even antiques.

When the proposed regulation changes have been published in the federal register (in the next few months) there will be a public comment period of 30-90 days (it varies). This is when you would take the time to write and make a statement to the effect that the further regulating of ivory that was legally imported into the U.S. before 1976 is unnecessary as it would not save elephants that are being killed in Africa now for ivory tusks that are being smuggled into Asia. We are suggesting you check the federal register website
http://www.regulations.gov and enter African elephant ivory under the sites search feature and see if anything has been posted in 2014. If the proposal for regulation revision has been made follow the comment procedure.

If you would like to speak to someone at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contact Craig Hoover at 703-358-2162. He has made himself available to the public with questions about this process (thank you Craig). You can also visit the Fish and Wildlife Service website: http://www.fws.gov/

The follow links were supplied by Craig Hoover at the Fish and Wildlife Service:

Here's a link to two tables that attempt to lay out the implications of the proposed changes:


And here's a link to a very long "frequently asked questions" that should provide answers to at least some of your questions:


White House information:


If you work with ivory you should consider stocking up soon.


In 1987 I secured a good supply of elephant tusk and have the 1974 bill of lading for its entry into the USA. Even though here in California where it has been banned to sell, federal ivory laws override and I can continue to legally sell knives with elephant ivory handles.

sample of full ivory overlay on curly koa

Over 25 years ago I developed a method called "full ivory overlay". A slab of ivory is cushioned underneath with a layer of exotic hardwood. This not only gives additional character to a knife, it also gives stability to the expansion rate of the ivory. I have never had any cracks develop in the ivory using this method! Thinner layers of wood work too.

oval inlay with lion scrimshaw


Another way to add ivory and scrimshaw to your knife at a greatly reduced cost is an oval inlay. This is a good way to upgrade your knife with artistry and not be so reluctant to use it.

  Click here to see knives for sale made with mammoth ivory



fossil walrus artifacts and tusk tips

Alaskan fossil walrus tusk ivory is one of the rarest and most beautiful of all the ivories available. Buried for approximately 100 to 3000 years, the ancient tusks and artifacts have been excavated from privately owned land at old village sites located on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.

Due to the mineral deposits in which they lay over the centuries, the originally white ivory has slowly taken on an exotic array of warm colors ranging from creams and golden tans to chocolate browns-- oranges to dark reds-- even an occasional rare splash of blues or green. Fossilized walrus is not only unique in beauty, but is also a very durable and stable handle material.

Whenever possible, each piece is kept intact as an artifact and polished in its natural shape. A blade style and size is selected to symmetrically go with the unique size and shape of each piece.

The distinctive character and growing rarity of fossil walrus ivory makes each knife a truly lasting, one-of-a-kind piece of art.

Click here to see knives for sale made with fossil walrus


wild boar photoI have a very small supply of Hawaiian boar tusks, both the long lower and the shorter, heavier upper. Because of their curled shape, there are only a couple of blade designs that go symmetrically with them. They sure do make a unique presentation in a knife collection!


  Heavy upper tusk and long slender lower tusk


five whale teeth

Ivory whale teeth come from the long, narrow, lower jaw of the sperm whale. This whale roams the warm oceans worldwide diving up to two miles deep in search for giant squid. One can only imagine the battles that go on in the depths! Once hunted for its blubber and the precious sperm oil in its head, these teeth in the USA have become extremely rare due to the prohibition of whale hunting under the Marine Endangered Species Act of 1972. Only teeth that were registered at that time are legal to use.

In years past I have made knives with whale tooth handles for Whaler's Village Museum on Maui. Occasionally I still make a few ivory handled knives for Lahaina Scrimshaw. About 15 years ago I bought a few whale teeth, but I only have a couple small teeth left.


Picture of wooly mammoth.


When digging for gold in Alaska, miners sometimes unearth ancient ivory tusks from an extinct species of elephant best known as wooly mammoth.
The largest source of mammoth tusks is from Siberia. Russian exports of mammoth ivory - the only type of ivory legally imported into the United States - reached 40 tons last year, up from just 2 tons in 1989.

In Siberia the tusks emerge with the spring thaw or after heavy rains, or along the eroding banks of rivers. A boom in gas and oil investment has added another source, as crews dig wells and dig ditches for pipelines. Fresh from the permafrost, mammoth ivory is nearly pristine, though with a characteristic green patina. But if left outside and exposed to the elements, it will disintegrate within three years into worthless splinters.

Having been buried for 8,000 to 12,000 years, some of these tusks have a lot of deep cracks while others are amazingly sound. Much of the interior of a tusk is light colored similar to that of normal elephant ivory.
The colorful "bark" on the outside of the tusk, however, is highly sought after. When sanded and polished, the shallow exterior cracks cause a highly colorful veining affect from minerals that had slowly penetrated into the ivory.


 Click here to see pocket knives for sale with mammoth ivory


sample of scrimshaw on a whale tooth


Simple scratching on polished bones and ivory teeth, then filling in with soot or India ink was the beginning of an original American art form. During the days of whaling while going to and from whaling areas, sailors would pass some of their time making rudimentary drawings and pictures on polished ivory teeth. Now, centuries later, scrimshanders put true art into their masterpieces by using lines and dots that achieve almost photographic quality. Although it is traditional to use black ink on white ivory, many of the modern day artists use full color.

I have used a variety of scrimshaw artists, including Linda Petree, Doug Fine, Elizabeth Dolebare, Shar Kight and Bob Hergert (Micro-scrim).

Here is a link that will take you to an extremely informative and educational site about ivory and the maritime folk art we all know as scrimshaw:





A frequently encountered misconception is that all ivory is "illegal", especially elephant ivory, indicated by that oft heard phrase "I thought ivory was illegal". NOT! The following is a summary of the international and U.S. Fish & Wildlife laws which regulate the commerce of ivory:

The international trade in wildlife and plants is regulated by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.) [a multinational protege of the United Nations]. Formed in 1973, the aim is to establish worldwide controls over plants & wildlife that require protecting due to declining populations. Headquartered in Switzerland, C.I.T.E.S., delegates meet every two years to review data & set new quotas to increase, decrease or maintain the level of protection on individual species. C.I.T.E.S. regulations do not control a country's internal commerce, only the international trade between member nations.

The State of California has gone beyond the federal restrictions, an attempt to make it illegal to sell or intend to sell any elephant ivory or whale teeth, even if it is a genuine antique. Also, no elephant ivory or whale teeth can be legally shipped into the State of California for commercial purposes. However, it is legal to own and bring into California, but you can't sell it. However, federal laws override California laws, so it is still legal in California to buy and sell elephant ivory.

Link to California law: http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/653o.html
Enforcement is by California Department of Fish and Wildlife.



Elephant and whale tooth ivory can not be shipped into or out of the U.S.A. All orders of oosik, walrus, fossil walrus, hippo or warthog ivory that are to be shipped out of the U.S. require a re-export permit which costs $100 per shipment and takes 30-45 days to acquire (considerably less time than they used to). This $100 fee must be included with foreign orders for these ivories. Mammoth and mastodon ivories do not require a permit.


Wildlife product commerce is regulated on a state and federal level. Interstate (between states) commerce of wildlife products in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1972 by the Dept. of the Interior/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service & by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 administered by National Marine Fisheries Service. A review of Federal wildlife law in the following paragraphs.

Each state has a Department of Fish & Wildlife or Game Department located in the state's capitol city. You check with your state game officials before buying wildlife products for resale (private ownership is not restricted). To find out about your state's wildlife laws, call the state Fish & Game Dept.- Law Enforcement Division in your capitol city. You can ask them about the regulations but have them mail you a copy, then read it. Wildlife agents are often an incredibly poor source of accurate info.


AFRICAN ELEPHANT-- Federal Law: It is legal to own, buy, sell or ship within the United States. However, not legal to sell in California or ship into. It is on the C.I.T.E.S. Endangered Species List. Importing, buying, and selling of African elephant ivory is not allowed internationally. It cannot be imported into or exported out of the U.S. or practically any other country of the world. Again, it is legal to own, buy, sell or ship within the United States (except California) and there are no permits or registration requirements (those were required for importation into the U.S.).

The raw elephant ivory available now is all old "estate" ivory which was legally imported years ago.


ASIAN ELEPHANT-- On the U.S. & C.I.T.E.S. Endangered Species List. Importing, buying, and selling of Asian elephant ivory is not allowed internationally or interstate within the U. S.


HIPPOPOTAMUS & WARTHOG-- Protected but not endangered. Once it has been imported into the U.S. no permit or documentation is necessary to buy or sell these ivories interstate.

Hippos are dangerous animals and a serious problem in many parts of Africa. They account for more human deaths per year than crocodiles and poisonous snakes combined. Populations are frequently thinned out through government culling operations. The meat, hides and ivory are utilized. Warthogs are also very common and are hunted for food. A $30 export permit is required to ship these ivories out of the U.S.


MAMMOTH & MASTODON-- Different animals, different looking tusks, the cut ivory looks the same. Buying and selling this 8,000-12,000 year old ivory is completely unrestricted. A great deal of this ivory in cut form looks practically identical to elephant ivory (except for the outer layer where all the color and weathering is).

The people at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Forensics Laboratory discovered a reliable indicator for differentiating between prehistoric mammoth and modern elephant ivory. Color is no indication; it is the angle that the cross grain lines bisect themselves. Angles of less than 90% indicate that it's mammoth/mastodon, angles greater than 120% show that it's elephant. This information is now being shared with customs and wildlife agents around the world so that mammoth ivory will clear customs inspections and not be subject to seizures or delays.


SPERM WHALE-- An endangered species regulated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Importation for commercial purposes has been prohibited since 1973. Interstate sales of registered pre-act teeth with scrimshaw is allowed under a special federal permit. Unregistered pre-act teeth can no longer be registered and cannot be transported across interstate lines for commercial purposes. They can be sold intrastate as long as state law does not prohibit. Antique scrimshaw (100 years plus) can be sold interstate.

I do not buy or sell whale teeth.

WALRUS (non-fossil)-- Regulated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Raw walrus ivory predating the Dec. 21, 1972 law, tusks bearing the Alaska state walrus ivory registration tags or post-law walrus ivory that has been carved or scrimshawed by an Alaskan native (Eskimo) are legal to buy, possess, and sell. Raw walrus ivory obtained after 12/21/72 is not legal to buy or sell unless both parties are Eskimo (it is legal to own). A $100 export permit is required to ship walrus ivory or oosik (legal as per above) out of the United States.


FOSSIL WALRUS IVORY-- Not restricted as it pre-dates the 1972 cutoff, it is legal to buy and sell anywhere within the United States. Shipping ivory or oosik (fossil walrus penal bone) out of the U. S. requires a $100 permit.