French Ivory in the Boudoir
French ivory is just a fancy name for celluloid, a type of plastic invented in the late 1860s to imitate ivory. French ivory was the trade name for objects produced by the JB Ash Co. in Illinois. French or faux ivory is synonymous with several other trade names including Genuine French Ivory or Ivoire De Paris (often accompanied by an elephant symbol), Ivorette, Depose Ivor-Tone France, Ivorine, Ivorite, and Pyralin.
Celluloid was the trade name for a plastic made by the Celluloid Manufacturing Company of Newark, New Jersey. Eventually celluloid became a generic term for plastic that resembled ivory in color and texture, as well as faux tortoise and bone. Unlike real ivory which is carved or sliced, sheets of celluloid plastic were molded into forms and machine turned.
When compared to real ivory, French ivory is much lighter in weight. French ivory is easily recognized by its uniform pattern of wavy parallel lines, without any of the cross hatching that is particular to elephant ivory. French ivory yellows with age and is susceptible to staining from perfumes and body oils. It also melts if exposed to heat and flames.
French ivory was in vogue from its inception through the late 1930s, with its heyday between 1910 and 1930. French ivory was used extensively for dressing table accessories and manicure sets for the bedroom. Fancier sets were often monogrammed. Many people today mistake French ivory for bakelite, which eventually replaced it.
If you're looking for a few period accessories to complement that deco era dressing table you just picked up at an estate sale, the best place to find French ivory vanity sets is on ebay or online group shops. Often entire sets are sold together, with the most common pieces being covered powder jars, mirrors, hairbrushes, buttonhooks, combs, cuticle scissors, glove stretchers, dresser trays, nail buffers, hairpin boxes, covered soap dishes, hair receivers, shoe horns, hair combs, and picture frames.
Many objects were made of celluloid, but not all of them imitated ivory. If your heart is set on French ivory, be sure to look carefully for the telltale wavy parallel lines before you buy.
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