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Ivory and its Uses

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Ivory & Its Uses

From Zanzibar to Ivoryton

 

An elephant tusk is merely a large, curved incisor. Tusks varied greatly in size. The largest tusks were to be found in Uganda and the softest in Kenya and Tanganyika. The record ivory tusk known to come from an East African elephant is in the Natural Museum of South Kensington. Its weight is 226 pounds and its length is 10 feet 21/2 inches. Years ago, prime tusks averaged about 90 pounds. An average of 55 pounds was considered good. The ivory tusks were made from freshly killed elephants. Licenses were issued to a number of white hunters in districts where elephants were in abundance and did considerable damage to native crops. Those elephants were shot by hunters, the tusks turned over to the Game Department, and then sold by the game department at public auction. They deducted the license fee and the balance went to the hunter. Dead ivory or that which was found on the ground was of inferior quality and very brittle. When the hunter brought in a tusk to the Game Department each tusk was identified by burning an initial and a number into it.

Ivory is of two types--hard and soft. The hard ivory came from India. Soft ivory, which was used for making ivory piano keys, came from Africa. The softest and best quality of ivory tusks was imported to the United States where Pratt, Read and Co. of Ivoryton was the largest buyer and manufacturer.

In 1884, three quarters of the Ivory exported from Zanzibar was sent to Deep River and Essex where it was primarily used for the manufacturing of keyboards. It has been estimated that 30,000 elephants were killed between 1905 and 1912 to supply these factories. A 70-pound tusk would supply ivory for about 45 keyboards. Since about 1958, plastics have been used for piano keys.

The entire tusk was utilized. The first process in the manufacture of Piano Keys was the junking of the tusk in four-inch lengths. The blocks were then marked for the parting and blocking; this was done for the purpose of having the grain in the head and tail match and also to get the equal number of sets of heads and tails from each tusk. The blocks were then slit into keys, each tusk being kept by itself through each process until it was laid on the keyboard. After the tusk had been slit into keys they were thoroughly dried and then bleached in specially prepared bleach water.

After this process they were dried again and put up to glass in bleach houses. They were then matched up and put into various grades after which they are ready for laying on the keyboards. The best grade of ivory was from the inside of a tusk.

After the pieces of piano keys were cut, the odd-shaped left-overs were used to make trinkets and many of the small items in the display.

The dust was sold as fertilizer.

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