Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Family Heirlooms: Antique Ivory

A lot of people have a problem with ivory. After all, ivory is made of elephant. Or more accurately I suppose I should say elephants make ivory. They grow amazing ivory tusks. And now that elephants are considered endangered, ethical manufacturers don't make ivory brushes or ivory backed mirrors any more. Or ivory anything else. And because ivory poachers kill elephants to steal their tusks you really don't want modern ivory; hauls of illegal ivory are often destroyed which to me seems a terrible shame as the elephants have already been killed for their tusks. But I do understand that if there is no market for new ivory the authorities hope it will put the poachers off,

So what do you do if you inherit ivory? It's hard to sell because people won't buy it; even owning antique ivory is rather frowned upon. Even if you can find a purchaser it seems from online research that they won't pay much. Again if you search online there are a few antique dealers selling a few brushes but many of the items advertised on eBay, for example, aren't ivory at all but celluloid or something.
My great grandmother Henrietta Maude Goff was quite well off. At any rate she had a lot more money than me. She had five children and when her husband died she went to live in South West France because she didn't like England. There was no-one to stop her spending her money so she bought a lot of stuff. My mother used to say that all the money went on linen sheets, and hats. Even when I was in my teens we came across some of the sheets she bought; still in the original packaging and tied with green ribbons. At some stage, possibly on her marriage, Maude acquired some very nice ivory toilette articles, quite likely in a in a lavish dressing case, long since lost.
I am lucky enough to have inherited a hairbrush, and clothes brush, with her monogram MG although the design of the monogram is slightly different. And then there's a hand mirror and a combined shoe horn with the initials GM and T. It is these latter I think might have been a wedding present as they feature her husband Trevor's initial along with her own.
I confess I don't use the hairbrush. My hair is too thick and I need a proper Mason Pearson to avoid looking like a bird's nest, but my granny (Maude's daughter-in-law) had very fine hair and used the brush every day for over 40 years.
Oddly enough I don't use the button hook on a daily basis either. I wonder if anyone has shoes with buttons these days? When I was very little I had red Mary Janes done up with a button. It does seem odd to design a shoe for a wriggling toddler that must be more difficult to fasten than a buckled shoe but I expect it was traditional. These days no doubt small children have shoes fastened with Velcro which doesn't have the same chic. Unless perhaps Princess Charlotte still has buttoned shoes.
I definitely want to keep these items. It's lovely having such pretty things with my initials on. And in any case I use the mirror and the clothes brush. But I'd like to give these other brushes away as presents. Unfortunately the Chef's daughter is a vegetarian so probably wouldn't be best pleased, and his niece was very disapproving when I gave her dad some mounted antlers (which after all fall off naturally each year) I inherited from my brother but he asked for them.
Also inherited from my brother three more ivory backed clothes brushes. It seems he made a grab for most of the clothes brushes. A bit weird considering he never took care of his clothes and probably never used them.
There's a lovely clothes brush with a beautiful squirrel on the back: my family crest. This brush has a particularly nicely shaped back. Then there's one with the initials AG for my great aunt Aileen. The ivory on this one isn't in such good condition but the initials are very nice. And a plain brush with no carving on the back.
So luckily I have some friends who I think are prepared to receive a gift of ivory. Hurrah. Because at the beginning of the year I initiated project I Must a Get Rid of Some Stuff. Sounds like a sensible plan doesn't it? Sadly because I've been ill I have failed to get rid of as much as I would like and this is my first step to getting back on track.

I'm not suggesting we should all have ivory handled brushes but it is a beautiful material. If you keep it clean - just with soap and water, and make sure to dry it properly, it feels as soft as silk. A lovely thing to hold in your hand. Oh, and the bristles are all natural of course. You need to keep them clean with a solution of washing soda but make sure that doesn't touch the ivory.

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