The Tortoise For Which There Is No Compare

17c_flemish_tortoiseshell_cabinet_01a1Tortoiseshell is one of those things, it is so insanely gorgeous and yet was extracted from the turtle in such a horrific way, that it is heartbreaking to even speak of it. Yet, this material, in its authentic form, was prized and held in high regard and used as a material for making hair combs, tea caddies, cigarette boxes, as decorative inlays on furniture, etc. before 40 years ago.  This is now not lawful under The Endangered Species Act, however it is still done as some countries do not have the financial resources to enforce the mandate.

2970126570739398dad34343a3107f2d

The term tortoiseshell is rather deceptive, as it is not derived from the tortoise at all, but rather the sea turtle, namely the hawksbill.  It’s a natural thermoplastic, therefore it is easily molded into various forms. The blonde variety of tortoiseshell is the most rare and the most desirable.  This material is prized for the ability to take a high polish and its gorgeous colouration.

d855d98ce84447f2579ee3d3d61780b5

Most older pieces will be genuine, the real deal, whereas, newer variations will actually be created from cellulose nitrate.  You can locate older forms at auction houses and they command a high price as they should.  They will typically need to be restored, as the veneer cracks over time, and there is a whole industry of restorers devoted solely to this type of work.

0358122547e69abe2d7206ae3d9f27cf

Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.

a_george_iii_tortoiseshell_ivory_and_pique_work_tea_caddy_circa_1790_d5313665h

Courtesy of Christie’s, Pegs and Tails, Sotheby’s, Tiffany & Co., Solange Spilimbergo Volpe

Advertisements