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The ivories of Dieppe by Claude Vilars


Jehan Ango (1480-1551)

This wealthy shipowner conquered the New World; with his ships he colonised Brazil and Canada, the coasts of Africa and Sumatra. Jean Fleury, the most famous of his captains, brought back to Dieppe part of the Aztec treasure taken from the Spaniards.
Dieppe was the largest port in France at the time. A port of conquests and trade, but one that refused to trade in slaves and built its fortune on war, spices and ivory. "We do not trade in men because we are Vikings," it was proclaimed.

The history of ivory is closely linked to that of Dieppe. In 1669, in his book "Relation des côtes d'Afrique", the historian Villaut de Bellefond recounts that "the Dieppois would have landed in Guinea in the 14th century to bring back ivory", but this would only be legend. Sailboats, sundials, medallions, boxes, message cases, flasks, combs and toiletries, whistles, snuffboxes and tobacco rasps, not forgetting the many cult objects, all bear witness to the use of ivory over the years. Practical, aesthetic, artistic, religious...

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and its wave of expatriations, followed by the fire of 1694, marked two major halts in the history of ivory in Dieppe.

However, in the 18th century, when the ships of the Senegalese Company stopped over in Guinea and brought back gold, pepper and elephant ivory, the town had 12 master ivory makers and 250 workers.

The "sea baths" at the turn of the 20th century marked the last vogue for ivory. It was at this time that the Graillons, father and son, Pierre-Adrien and Pierre Félix, all three artists, became the most famous names in the "Dieppe ivory industry". Pierre especially, who was also a modeler and sculptor on stone, wood and terracotta. The trade came to a halt with the First World War.

Then, with the decree of May 28, 1997 which subjected to authorization (with retroactive effect to February 26, 1976) the possession and the use of the ivory of elephant by the manufacturers or the restorers (NOR: ENVN 97 60134 A). And finally that of Madame Ségolène Royal with the decree of 16 August 2016 on elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. The procedures are more than heavy and complicated. The parts must have CITES or DIREN (Directorate of the Environment) permits. The trade is tending to disappear. Fewer engravers, fewer materials...

Elephant ivory is not the only one worked. "It is the most voluminous, the tusk being solid over a third of its length, and therefore the easiest to work with. The ivory worker also works on walrus and hippopotamus tusks. He also works on other, more fascinating tusks that are thousands of years old, such as those of the mammoth, preserved by the cold and found in Siberia or Alaska. Or dinosaur teeth, whose ivory takes on different shades depending on the fossilization universe...

You should know that Fnepsa is competent in the expertise of ivory (elephant tusks). These art objects are highly prized today because of their rarity, and some of our experts have made this field a speciality.

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