10kt Gold Victorian-era Infant Ring. Ca. 1870-1890.

Sometimes, you find the niftiest stuff at charity shops! I picked up this little gem today:

I’ve researched it, and asked jewelers about it, and compared it with other examples online. It’s been tested by a reputable auction house and the conclusion of all, is that this is a stunning example of a Victorian era baby’s ring (probably a pinkie ring)!

It is intended for use by infants and toddlers. It is absolutely tiny! I can’t fit it onto my pinkie-finger, and my hands are pretty small. Something like this was probably a present to a newborn or to a baby on its first birthday. The ring is certified 10kt gold, and the star settings are red garnet, and seed pearls, as can be seen here:

The ring dates to the second half of the Victorian era, probably between 1870-1890. I’ve never seen one like it before, but examples online which closely resemble this ring all state that they are baby’s rings, and that they are usually 10kt gold. I consulted a jeweler friend of mine (if you’re reading this, you know who you are! Thanks!), and he said that it was common for 10 & 15kt gold to be unmarked in the period before Australian federation (which was 1901). Since this ring is Victorian in date, that makes a lot of sense.

I’m so amazed to own this thing! I just had to share it 🙂


Restoring a Victorian-Era Double-Hinge Writing Slope

I’ve often been told that if you restore an antique, you ruin its value. Not a belief that I have ever wholeheartedly followed. Mostly because it varies significantly on a case-by-case basis. A slipshod, half-assed restoration can destroy an antique. A careful, loving restoration can increase an antique’s value significantly. The difference is knowing when to restore something, and whether your actions could damage the item irreparably.

Take for example, this item:

I purchased this during a day-trip down the coast. It’s a very, very battered late-19th century gentleman’s writing-box. I bought it because I’d never seen a box of this style with this type of metalwork on the lid before. As far as old writing-boxes go, it was very cheap, and I daresay if I hadn’t bought it, it would’ve been thrown out as a useless bit of old tat, sooner or later. I figured that if I did buy it, then I could restore it and use it as my own personal writing-slope. I didn’t want to use any of my nicer ones, in case I damaged them. This one was already in ‘rustic’ condition, shall we say – so I wouldn’t feel too guilty about using it, since there was very little of value left to damage!!

See what I mean?? This box’s list of ailments was impressive, to say the least. Let’s see now…

– No key.
– Torn accessories caddy.
– Broken organiser.
– Broken inkstand.
– Ink stains everywhere.
– Inkwell was falling apart, and leaking like a sieve.
– Scratches and grime all over the place.
– Broken divider between the inkwell and pen-rest.
– Completely devoid of writing accessories.
– Aide Memoire was shot to a million pieces.

Repairing the Inkstand The first and easiest repair was fixing the inkstand. This is just three or four pieces of wood which just slot together. Unfortunately, someone glued them together. Someone else then tried to pull it apart, and broke the wood at the glued joints. I pulled the wood apart and used a very sharp knife to cut away the glue and separate the wood. I glued back the broken parts as they were originally intended, and then slotted everything back together, without glue or nails or screws to hold it together (as it was originally designed to do).

The writing-slope with the inkstand disassembled. Removing this also allowed me to clean up a lot of the ink that you can see in the corner, from the leaking inkwell. I used extra-fine steel wool for that. It scrubs away the majority of the ink without seriously damaging the wood finish.

Once that was done, I had to measure and cut a new divider between the pen-rest and the inkwell. The old one was broken in half, and the removable pen-rest kept sliding back and forth, knocking against the inkwell. It was a simple repair and easily accomplished.

Repairing the Leather Not so easy was repairing the leather. The writing-slope had DEEP scratches, and many stains and blemishes, not to mention the fact that in areas, the leather was peeling off and in others, was gone completely! Fortunately the vast majority of the box was still leather-covered. I was able to glue down the loose bits, and then cleaned and polished the leather with dubbin and black shoe-polish. It removed some of the scratches and marks, but not all of them. Indeed, not even most of them. But it’s better than nothing! And far easier than ripping off all the leather and replacing it entirely!

Repairing the Organiser

Repairing the organiser (the two-slot space for storing papers), was significantly easier than trying to remove the blemishes from the leather. I had enough broken and loose bits of wood leftover in the box to trace, cut and stain extra parts of the correct size. I then glued them all back into place…

Replacing the Aide Memoire One of the biggest issues with this box was replacing the Aide Memoire. The two white shield-shaped panels on the lid. Really fancy writing-slopes have these made of sheets of purest ivory. Cheaper ones, they’re made of celluloid. And the really rock-bottom economy models (like this one!!) – they’re just cardboard! In fact they’re not even cardboard, they’re cardstock. The same stuff which Hallmark uses in all its fancy greetings-cards! The original aide memoire was so dilapidated it literally crumbled off on the way home. I scraped off the remainder with a knife…

…and then made tracings of the outlines. I cut two identical white, waxed cardstock templates and glued them into place. I measured and checked everything countless times, to ensure that they were as close to the originals as possible…

Gluing the Inkwell Back Together One of the biggest headaches about this writing-slope was the inkwell. After 100 years, it was falling apart in the most spectacular fashion, and I had no idea how to fix it. The inkwell is made up of three components: – A necked, glass bottle. – A threaded, brass collar that goes over the neck. – A threaded, brass cap that screws onto the collar. The collar is held onto the neck by some manner of filler-adhesive. Over 100 years or more, the adhesive had not only lost its grip, it had lost its integrity, too.

One good wiggle was all it needed to part neck from collar, in what was already a construct of the flimsiest condition. Fortunately, no element of the inkwell was broken when it came apart. I chipped, scraped and sanded off all the leftover adhesive-filler, and then I used two-part epoxy filler-adhesive, to glue the collar back onto the glass neck, and create a watertight seal. It was a bit messy, as glue is apt to be, but it got the job done with spectacular results! The inkwell is now whole again, leakproof and able to hold fluid without leaking everywhere!

Cutting a Key After all that came what was possibly the hardest task, which ironically, had been among the easiest in all my previous jobs! Finding a key for the lock! These old writing-boxes, generally, have very simple one-lever locks. A key with a barrel and head the right size is all that’s needed to turn the bolt. No fiddly teeth or notches required. Or at least, not normally. But this lock was proving more than cantankerous. It defied all my usual attempts to find a key for it.

I was on the verge of giving up and sending the whole damn thing to a locksmith, when I decided to give it all one last try. To send this to a locksmith would’ve cost me a prohibitive amount of money, and time, considering that a box of keys is only a few bucks. I purchased said box of keys, found one of an appropriate size, and then unscrewed the lock from the box, and then used a flat-head screwdriver to lever the plates apart…

Once sufficiently loosened, the entire thing fell apart. The lock is only made up of three components. The frontplate, the bolt, and the backplate, containing the lever and spring. This was just a one-lever lock. So I only had to file down a key to make it the right size to push against one item. Locks like this can have as many as three, five, or even eight levers, or more. After a lot of filing and testing, I got a key to fit the lock. I reassembled the lock…

…and then I hammered it back together, slotted it back into the box, screwed it down, and tied the key to the box-handle to stop it getting lost.

Finishing Touches After repairing the lock, the aide memoire, as much of the leather as I could, the inkstand and the inkwell, the organiser and wiping off a considerable amount of grime, all I hd left was the finishing touches. Cleaning it once more, and finding all the necessary bits and pieces to fill it up. Like all the bone and ivory to accessorize it with:

The ink-eraser knife, the letter-opener, and the page-turner (white thing on the pen-rest) are all ivory from the Victorian era. The dip-pen is bone. And here we have it. Is it perfect? Not really. But it’s the closest that we’re likely to get to ever seeing what the original condition of this box might’ve been, over 130 years ago.


Antique Ivory – What is it? Where does it come from? How do you get it? Is it LEGAL?

I collect antiques.

I have done for quite a few years, now. And I consider myself to be at least reasonably knowledgeable about the items which, and the periods from when I collect.

My main area of collection is antique writing accessories and equipment, although I will collect anything that catches my fancy, so as a result, my collection can be rather eclectic. Over the years I’ve noticed that I’ve amassed a small collection of ivory. And this is what this post is about. Ivory. What is is, how to I.D. it, where to find it, how to get it and all that other good stuff.

Ivory is beautiful. Ivory is rare. Ivory is expensive. And ivory is fraught with legal, moral and other kinds of difficulties. So let’s get right into it!

What Is Ivory?

In simplest terms, ivory is teeth. It’s the enamel-like substance that makes up the core and exterior of tusks and teeth. It’s famed for its colour, texture, ease of carving and variety of size and shape.

Where does Ivory Come From?


Yes. But there are also a number of other sources. These include hippos, walruses, seals, narwhals, and the extinct mammoth. Mammoth ivory is legal to purchase and trade, as it does not harm living creatures, however, it is very expensive. It’s also legal to trade other ivory, provided that the ivory comes from a creature that died of natural causes. As poaching ivory-bearing animals is illegal, quantities of legal ivory are very small and the prices are, unsurprisingly, prohibitively expensive.

Is it Legal to Own Ivory?

Yes…with a ‘but’.

It IS legal to own, buy and sell antique ivory. The animal’s already dead, so there’s no issues surrounding poaching, or wondering where the ivory came from. Nobody cares about an elephant who died 150 years ago. You can’t be prosecuted for owning antique ivory (s’long as you didn’t steal it!). I own about a dozen pieces of antique ivory myself. All purchased quite legally from antiques shops and flea-markets, fairs and other such events.

Owning NEW ivory is fraught with ALL KINDS of issues. ‘New’ ivory basically means anything which was harvested, or processed in any way, after the Second World War, and especially, after the 1970s and 80s.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay sure. Whatever. But is it LEGAL to own new ivory?

YES. But owning new ivory comes with so many strings attached, you could strum it like a harp.

It IS legal to buy and own modern ivory, but when you see the hassle that goes into it…you might change your mind. Even expert antiques dealers and auctioneers who have been doing this for decades couldn’t tell you how hard it is. There’s more loopholes in this than the curtain wall on a castle. Don’t believe me? Here goes…

It is legal for Alaskan natives to sell ivory (walrus ivory, usually) to non-natives. BUT ONLY AFTER the animal (which was hunted) has been thoroughly used up, FIRST. Killing the walrus just for the ivory and discarding the rest of the animal is illegal.

It’s legal to sell MAMMOTH ivory, because mammoths are already dead, so no live animals are hurt in extracting the ivory. But it’s prohibitively expensive.

It’s legal to sell narwhal ivory. But again, you need paperwork.

It’s legal to sell ‘vintage ivory’ (that is, ivory that’s old, but which is still postwar), so long as you have full documentation.

Ivory, Bone and Plastic

For whatever reason – Perhaps you inherited it – perhaps you found it – perhaps you bought it at a flea-market or antiques shop – you have a piece of ivory.

Or at least, you think you do. But you have no idea if it is. How do you tell? Here is my guide to determining if something is, or is not ivory.

Here, we have a closeup of three different materials. One of them is ivory. Two of them are often mistaken for ivory. What’s the difference??

The items are a page-turner, a paper-folder, and the scales from a straight-razor. They all look roughly the same, but only one is the real McCoy. How do you tell which one of these three materials is ivory? Well, to help you with that, here is my own little guide:


…is a natural product. If it looks absolutely perfect, it ain’t ivory. Even the most perfect ivory will have flaws of some kind. Spots. Inclusions. Lines. Pitting. Stuff like that.
…is like wood. It has a grain that you can either see with your eyes, or feel with your fingernails. If you don’t see or feel some sort of grain – be suspicious!
…grain is never uniform. Like wood-grain, it’s random and goes all over the place. If the ‘grain’ is perfectly spaced out (see the straight razor at the bottom), then it is not ivory. It is plastic with a faux ‘grain’ on top to make it look like ivory.
…is normally very smooth, with minimal pitting and is usually an off-white cream or darker beige colour.
…does NOT have a whole heap of pitting and holes and black spots on it. Black spots and deep, frequent pitting (large enough to catch your fingernail in) means that the item is BONE, NOT IVORY. The black spots are marrow-flecks.
…can vary from piece to piece, depending on age, condition, and of course, the animal it’s taken from.

Beware of the term ‘French Ivory’. This is just a fancy way of saying ‘celluloid’, which itself was also called Xylonite and Parkesine (two early names for what later was called celluloid).

If the above guide doesn’t help, another way of testing for ivory is the ‘hot needle’ test. Heat up a needle until it’s really, really hot. Then stick it into the item which you think is ivory.

If it is ivory – nothing happens. If it isn’t ivory, then the item will melt, smoulder or the needle will sink into the item. Or the item might be bone.

If the item is celluloid, then DON’T TRY THIS!!! Antique celluloid is HIGHLY COMBUSTIBLE and it WILL burst into flames if it’s exposed to high enough heat. having seen what happens firsthand what happens when you set fire to celluloid (I did it as an experiment with a broken fountain pen) – I can assure you – you don’t want antique plastic flaring up and exploding in front of you!

Owning and Looking After Ivory

Owning ivory is legal, provided that it is ANTIQUE IVORY, or, if it’s modern ivory – if you have all the necessary documentation. With antique ivory, you don’t need documentation, so long as you can prove how old it is by some other means (maybe it’s part of a set, maybe it’s part of another antique, etc).

The only exception to this is the United States.

In the EU, Great Britain, and most countries of the former British Empire, it’s perfectly legal to own antique ivory – and you don’t need any supporting paperwork. Antiques dealers can sell it and trade it quite openly from their shops, market-stalls and elsewhere, and the discerning public can buy it, own it, use it and collect it as they wish.

But in America, laws were passed as recently as 2014 which state that ALL IVORY – including antique ivory – MUST come with certificates and paperwork from the relevant government departments stating that this ivory was legally purchased and accessed. There are NO exceptions to this.

The rest of the world doesn’t care – If it’s antique ivory, and it’s OBVIOUSLY antique ivory – then obviously, no animals in recent times died for it – so unless you stole it – it’s legal. This is the case in Britain, Europe, Australia and a number of other countries. But in the United States, all ivory, regardless of origin, provenance and history, must come with government documentation. Unsurprisingly, it’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way – especially antiques dealers, who have now essentially been branded criminals for things that they purchased quite legally.

If you are in the ‘States, or if you’re going there with ivory – watch out!!

But, for whatever reason – you have ivory. You inherited, or bought it, or found it. Now what do you do to keep it safe?

Ivory should be handled with care. If you touch it often enough, it will eventually turn yellow (like those antique piano-keys), and it can dry out and crack. So keep it away from heat and strong sunlight as much as possible. So long as it’s kept cool, away from heat and strong light, an item made of ivory should last for many, many, many years.

My Ivory Collection

This is my personal collection of ivory, amassed over a period of about five years. It’s comprised of page-turners (the two flat pieces, bottom left), paper-knives (two on bottom right), ink-erasers (inner left and inner right. Spearpoint blades). Letter-opener (top left, next to ink-eraser). Button-hook, hole-punch, crochet-hook and file, and at the top – a ruler made of ivory. All these pieces are at least 100 years old (in some cases at least 150 years old!), and are all in wonderful condition.

Every piece here is ivory – and you can see the subtle differences in shade, finish, and colour. No two pieces are exactly the same. That is because this is a natural product which, like wood – is always a little different from sample to sample. Colour also varies from sample to sample. Compare the two ink-knives – the left one is darker, the right one is lighter.

This is my 13th piece of ivory – another paper-knife/letter-opener (or doctor’s tongue-depressor, as a few have suggested).

Hopefully this guide has been useful and helpful to people who own, or want to own, pieces of antique ivory 🙂