In a majority of countries around the world, the trade in elephant ivory has been banned. Unfortunately, this has not stopped the poaching of the animals and there are still items made of ivory available which were made a long time ago. Since it was banned, most items that were made from ivory are now made from plastics. The main reason for ivory's popularity is that it is a good material to work with as it is easy to carve, resistant to breakage and leaves a pleasant smooth, off-white finish that is resistant to staining.
Many sculptures are available in ivory. The majority of these are from Africa and Asia and depict gods or idols. As empires expanded, so did the use of ivory. The ancient Romans and Greeks also used the material. Early depictions of Catholic saints were also made out of ivory.
One of the main uses of ivory was to make little keepsakes. Boxes, jewelry and hair pins have all been made from ivory at some point. Boxes would have been made out of ivory entirely and would normally have a carved motif on the top. On items like hair pins, the ivory would also have been carved and would have only made up a single decorative part of the object.
As ivory was so popular, it became commonplace for veneers, or thin layers, of ivory to be put on large objects. Large boxes, wardrobes and other items would be made out of wood and covered in a tin layer of elephant ivory to give the impression it was made entirely out of the desirable material. Piano keys, arguably the most famous use for ivory, also used this method.
Ivory was used in everything, which is why the elephant population has been decimated so much by the trade. Door handles, snooker balls and buttons have all been made out of it. Signature seals were also commonly made out of ivory as the material was easy to carve and held its shape well. Chess and draught pieces have also been made out of ivory, although camel bone is more traditional.