Distinguishing Authentic Antique Scrimshaw from Fraudulent Ivory

Part 3 of 3

Another type of fraudulent antique scrimshaw is actually an artistic form of forgery. The 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) places a ban on importing & exporting contemporary whale teeth, but allows exporting & importing documented ANTIQUE scrimshaw.

At that time in England, there was a glut of contemporary raw whale teeth, an abundance of talented artisans, and an opportunity not missed by a shady group, collectively known as the English School of Forgery (ESF). Basically, Victorian-era type scenes were scribed onto authentic whale teeth, which were then “aged” by immersion in tea or coffee, until the desired false “patina” shade was achieved.

Individually, these teeth look quite convincing, but when two or more are side-by-side [Images #1 & #2], the obvious “tell” of uniform false patina is revealed, even in the root cavity. Occasionally, one or two of these ESF scrimshaws show-up on eBay.

Only 5% of authentic antique scrimshaw display text [Images #3, #4, & #5], and only 2% of authentic antique scrimshaw were dated by the scrimshander [Image #6].

Besides the uniform fake patina, the other “tell” about ESF scrimwork is the over-abundance of text & dates. Also, note artificially dark, uniform tone of root cavity [Image #7].

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