Appraisers & Dealers come across unusual items that their customers are sure are made of “Genuine Ivory”, or some other hand-carved material such bone, marble or jade. Sadly most are anything but what they first appear to be what they appear to be when first viewed in a busy auction hall or dimly lit “Junk Shoppe” . The pieces shown above above are prime examples of that, routinely praised as being “Genuine Ivory” or “hand-carved ivory” by the eager seller of the piece, the story backed up by family folklore. The reality being far more humble, rather than ivory, they are often a form of plaster casting.
The history of plaster casting dates back 9,000 years. There is evidence of ancient plaster in the Middle East, used in Syria and Egypt. Early Roman Antique Dealers used plaster to make copies of Greek statutes to fill the market demand for originals (some things never change). We know it today as “Plaster of Paris,” after its extensive use in France as a fire retardant coating and decorative material. By the 1700s, Paris came to be known was known as the “capital of plaster,” which is why the name has stuck, the term “Plaster of Paris” emerged into a generic term.
The “Ivory” Plaster plaques like the ones above were mass produced from molds, their ivory like appearance a result of paint or glazes used to to give them the appearance of ivory or marble. Their origins are often far more humble then the family histories let on, but then the truth often is. Quite often these were used as inexpensive carnival prizes during the early years of the 20th century or sold simply sold as inexpensive souvenirs of historical sites. many of these plaques are unmarked. Some post-First World War examples carry copyright marks and company names, but the problem is many used a foil or paper label, which seldom survive to this day.
Unlike most such plaques, these two are marked and traceable to a maker. They were made by B. Osborne Company, who marketed them as “Ivorex,” a line of decorative plaster wall plaques made between 1899-1965 . The company was located in Faversham, Kent, England, their catalogs indicates they produced 495 different plaques. At the companies peak they were producing 45,000 pieces a year.Values vary quite a bit for these plaques, depending on condition the size and subject. Most like the ones shown above have modest values, this set of four sold for less than $20.00