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



IVORY LAWS - Fossil Walrus - Boar Tusk - Whale teeth - Mammoth - Scrimshaw

charging bull elephant


President Obama's executive order has made 
all elephant  ivory in the U.S. illegal to buy or
sell  as  of  July  6,  2016.  It  is  however,  still
                   legal to own.  There is an antique  exemption
                but must have documentation.


In 1987 I secured a good supply of elephant tusk and have the 1975 bill of lading for its entry into the USA.
However, here in California it is illegal to buy or sell ANY kind of ivory.sample of full ivory overlay on curly koa(Click to see legislation).

About 30 years ago I developed a method called "full ivory overlay". A slab of ivory is cushioned under-neath 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.

Knives I used to be able to make


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.



wild boar photoHawaiian boar tusks are ivory, 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 and Lahaina Scrimshaw.


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 in 2009, 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 surface cracks cause a highly colorful veining affect from minerals that had slowly penetrated into the ivory.

The sale of extinct mammoth ivory is banned
 in  California,  New York  and  New Jersey.



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 rudi-
mentary  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.

                  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:  http://www.scrimshawcollectors.com/




I can no longer buy or sell any kind of ivory 
due to the anti-ivory law that went into effect
 on July 1, 2016 here in California where I live. 
Click here to see California Legislation


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.

US Federal Law Has Changed:
Beginning July 6, 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), acting in furtherance of an executive order by President Obama, published its final rule concerning the Special Rule on African Elephants, commonly referred to as the "Federal Ivory Ban."
The new rule covers "interstate commerce" in only elephant ivory and not fossil ivory.  It includes two exceptions to the near-total ban, both of which will have an adverse effect on trade in ivory handled and decorated knives.

1. The antique exception covers ivory that's 100 years old or older and was never repaired or modified since 1973

 2. The de minimis exception covers ivory that is less than 100 years old and is further narrowed by six other criteria, all of which must be met.

Antique Exception

For the antique exception there is no weight limit or any requirement that ivory be incorporated with another object. Solid ivory items are allowed.
Documentation of one sort or another will be key to claiming the antique exception. FWS notes the value of experts and professional appraisers in establishing the age or provenance of an item, BUT, expert opinions are simply potentially useful and not determinative. Any expert needs to be prepared to document the basis behind an opinion that an item is an antique.

No antique ivory items will be allowed to be imported, period. Antique ivory items can be legally exported as long as the country to which they are exported has no ban on importation.

Moreover, the requirement that any antique ivory-handled or decorated knife not have been repaired or modified after December 27, 1973, could be an issue with some knives that otherwise fall under the antique exception.

De Minimis Exception

For the de minimis exception for ivory less than 100 years old, the additional narrowing criteria are listed below with some annotations to make them a bit clearer. In order to qualify under the de minimis exception, every one of the following six criteria must be met:

(i) If the item is located within the United States, the ivory was imported into the United States prior to January 18, 1990, or was imported into the United States under a Convention on International Trade in

Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) pre-Convention certificate with no limitation on its commercial use (since little, if any, of the ivory imported "preban" has any documentation, this is potentially a very problematic issue - even post-ban ivory may not have been transferred with adequate documentation);

(ii) If the item is located outside the United States, (it can be imported only if) the ivory was removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976;

(iii) The ivory is a fixed or integral component or components of a larger manufactured or handcrafted item and is not in its current form the primary source of the value of the item, that is, the ivory does not account for more than 50 percent of the value of the item (knife handles or ivory nuts that could be removed from an item and meet all other criteria of the de minimis exception are covered by the exception. However, this exception would not allow knife handles, ivory nuts or other components made from ivory to be sold or traded independently. The 50% value rule will likely be appraised based on value of an identical or similar knife with other than ivory handle or ivory decoration and if it exceeds 50% more value that would fail this criteria.);

(iv) The ivory is not raw (any existing raw ivory can no longer be traded or worked and then traded, period);

(v) The manufactured or handcrafted item is not made wholly or primarily of ivory, that is, the ivory component or components do not account for more than 50 percent of the item by volume (if an item is less than half ivory and qualifies under all of the other de minimis criteria, it could be legal to sell in interstate trade. However, just putting a knife on a big wooden base or surrounding it with a display case is unlikely to bring the knife within this exception);

(vi) The total weight of the ivory component or components is less than 200 grams (approx. 7 ounces); and

(vii) The item was manufactured or handcrafted before the effective date of this rule (July 6, 2016).

 Again, in order to qualify under the de minimis exception, every one of the above six criteria must be met.


State Ivory and Fossil Ivory Bans

Note that the federal rule is separate from state ivory bans which are listed below:

New York: Ivory and Fossil Ivory

New Jersey: Ivory and Fossil Ivory

Washington: Ivory

California: Ivory and Fossil Ivory (All Ivory) - Effective July 1, 2016 (a lawsuit challenging ban has been filed)

Hawaii: Ivory and Fossil Ivory - Effective June 30, 2017

The State of California where I live, has gone beyond the federal restrictions, making it illegal upon JULY 1, 2016 to sell or intend to sell any type or form of ANY ivory, even if it is a genuine antique. However, it is legal to own and bring into California, but you can't sell it.

Link to California law: CLICK HERE
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. 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.
It is currrently illegal to ship ivory into New York or New Jersey.


AFRICAN ELEPHANT-- Federal Law: It is legal to own within the United States. However, not legal to sell in New York, New Jersey and California. 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. 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 (except in New York, New Jersey and California). 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. Looking at the end-grain, 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).


FOSSIL WALRUS IVORY-- Not restricted as it pre-dates the 1972 cutoff, it is legal to buy and sell anywhere within the United States, except for New York, New Jersey and California.