Is it legal to make things from ivory and tortise shell?

Is it legal to make things from ivory and tortoise shell?

I see all these fabulous things on Antiques Road Show and wonder if they are still suitable for craftsmen to produce.

Are the materials banned if the animals are endangered?

Can you sell things decorated with bald eagle feathers, for example, if you collected them from abandoned nests?

I would venture a no answer to most of your questions. Of course, this has led to the use of fossilized mammoth ivory in place of elephant tusk. Walrus tusk has also become a popular substitute, leading to walruses with their heads chainsawed off to meet the demand. Oh joy!

From the U.S. Customs website:


But you may import an object made of ivory if it’s an antique; that is, if it’s at least 100 years old. You will need documentation that authenticates the age of the ivory.


IIRC, the gevernment of Kenya sells the ivory from elephant culls under highly controlled circumstances, but I don’t think this alters the U.S. rule on importation. Most other countries have similar rules regarding Ivory importation, but I don’t have the specifics.

In the U.S., walrus ivory can be legally harvested by the Eskimos of Alaska. They must utilize all usable parts of the walrus carcass, though cases of waste as described by Zenster, while rare, do occur. Only Eskimos are allowed possess or carve raw walrus ivory. Once it has been turned into a signed artwork through carving or scrimshaw, it is legal for anyone to sell within the U.S., but it may not be exported without a CITES license.

Legally no.
Relevant section (from the Division of Law Enforcement):

“It is illegal for any individual to possess a bald or golden eagle, including its parts (feathers, feet, etc). The distribution of bald and golden eagles, and their parts to Native Americans is authorized by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Regulations found in 50 CFR 22.”

Read the rest of the site, also - Native Americans can posess feathers (and eagle parts) for religious uses.

FYI - Repatriation of a headdress

As an amatuer maker of musical instruments, I can tell you that there are many natural substitues available, although none are perfect. I mainly use cow bone (from the local market) and tagua nuts (a little more difficult to get). Both have many of the same properties as ivory (hardness, fine grain, etc.), but I must admit, the real stuff is nicer… and none that I use are available in large sizes (I just looked at a photo of a nice 19th century clarinet made with ivory barrel & tube with gold keys. Must be nice…)

You may find it’s not illegal to own or make things from ivory or tortoise shell. The trick is acquiring and/or importing them legally.

Check out for information regarding ivory laws.
Simple answer is “yes” at least wrt ivory. Many cuemakers will use ivory for joints, inlays and ferrules at the request of the buyer. I didn’t search on tortoise shell.

Thanks for the link… financial considerations drive me more that availability, though. When my work is a bit finer (or when i repair a vintage piece) I spend more money on that.