Yes it is a touchy subject, politically, ethically, and environmentally; and yes, it is available through legal sources, with full documentation as to origin and date of 'harvesting.' There are two types of ivory currently used for bagpipe mounts, ferrules, and ring caps - elephant ivory, which has been traditional for two hundred years, and mastodon or mammoth ivory, which has recently become popular for pipe mounts. Many people have asked about walrus ivory, which is covered under the CITES treaty and can no longer be imported. In addition, walrus ivory is usually too small in diameter to use on pipes. In the past whale ivory, from sperm whale teeth, was used, but this source is no longer available.

ELEPHANT IVORY is, unfortunately, a touchy political issue. Of course we abhor the depletion of remaining elephant herds, but, honestly, no synthetic material has the look or feel of the real thing. We do have available from our supplier stocks of pre-CITES treaty African elephant ivory for pipe mounts. Unfortunately for all concerned - particularly the elephants - the CITES treaty has done little if anything to prevent poaching and the elephant herds are just as depleted as they were eleven years ago. In 1997 the Kenyan government publicly burned over fifty TONS of ivory, all confiscated from poachers over a three year period - imagine how much was actually smuggled out of the country during that time.

Legal elephant ivory is terribly expensive, but, if you have a set of pipes with damaged ivory mounts that need replacement, we can do it. If you're interested in obtaining ivory replacement mounts, please contact us for a price quote. I guarantee the price WON'T be pretty - remember, it is not only illegal to import new ivory into the US (it must have been taken before 1989, according to the CITES treaty), it is also illegal to SELL or TRADE elephant or walrus ivory of ANY kind in several states - including California (tell that to all the import shops in Chinatown). So...your best bet is:

An alternative material relatively new to bagpipes is MASTODON, or MAMMOTH IVORY, which is a by-product of mining in Russia (vhat are they minink??? Who knew? I mean nu?), and is also found in Alaska. Less expensive than elephant ivory, it is still pricey, but completely LEGAL for export or import into the US, as it is a 'fossil' and not an endangered species (I'll say!). Mastodon ivory is beautiful, and slightly darker than elephant ivory, with an ecru or dark cream colour rather than the near-white of new elephant ivory. It has the same appearance when turned through the 'eye,' or center of the tusk, with the distinctive interlacing or 'lamellae' characteristic to pachyderm tusks, called 'Schreger lines.' I've worked this material myself, and it is lovely to turn - and expensive! It's painful to see all the waste material flying off the turning gouge when you work it, but that's the nature of the business!

bass drone longjoint mounted in mastodon ivory and vermeil; note the colour difference between the two mounts. The left mount is Siberian mammoth; the right mount came from Alaska

A full set of projecting mounts, buttons, chanter ball, drone bushes, and mouthpiece will run about $3,500 to 'ivory up' a half-silver set. A complete set of mounts, ferrules, and ringcaps will run about $5500 - plus the cost of the pipes themselves.

left - dirk, byknife and fork handles in mastodon ivory; right, two elephant ivory sgians

Yes, this is expensive, BUT - if you want real ivory, this is really the only practical and LEGAL way to get it. Contact us if you're interested in taking this plunge, or if you have damaged ivory mounts. Our restoration and refurbishing service can match ivory colours as close as possible.



Back to Cuillinn Craft Home Page

All images on this site used with permission from Tamarsha B.V. / Twice Blown Music and Sharp and Co Bagpipe Makers LTD