Other Animal And Vegetable Substances

These include a number that resemble ivory more or less closely: the teeth of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, and sperm-whale, and the bones of animals. From the latter, Napoleonic prisoners of war held captive in England constructed models of sailing ships. Many of them were extremely well made, especially when the conditions in which the craftsmen lived and the lack of suitable tools and materials are considered. Models of guillotines were made also by the same men, but these are understandably less popular with collectors. The horn of the rhinoceros was esteemed by the Chinese for use in preparing medicines and also, when in the form of a drinking-vessel, for the testing of liquids, if poison was present it was said that a white liquid would become visible. Be that as it may, the Chinese craftsmen skillfully carved cups from the brown horn, which acquires an attractive dull sheen with age, and made elaborate blackwood stands to bear them.

Tortoiseshell was known and valued by the Romans, and in more modern times was much used as a veneer on furniture in combination with brass; a type of ornamentation perfected by the French cabinet-maker A. C. Boulle at the end of the seventeenth century. During the nineteenth century, tortoiseshell was often used for veneering small articles, pin-boxes and tea-caddies being particularly favoured. Like horn, it was moulded and carved both in Europe and the Far East, and it has been imitated with varying success in celluloid and other transparent materials.

Mother-of-pearl is the lustrous pearl-like inner lining of many seashells. It is found all over the world, but shells from tropical waters are esteemed because of their large size. Complete shells were carved with religious and other scenes, tea-caddies were covered with the material, and the Chinese made many thousands of gambling counters from it. These were of various shapes and each was carefully engraved. Mother-of-pearl was employed as an inlay from the seventeenth century, both in wood and lacquer, and in Victorian times was inset in black japanned and gilt furniture, tea trays and other objects. An unusual technique was to inset minute pieces of it, carefully arranged in a pattern, into black lacquer covering a vase or a bowl of Chinese porcelain. This was done in the Far East in the eighteenth century, and such decoration is termed 'lac burgaute'.



Collectable Antiques: