Tortoiseshell Box Conservation Series – Elephant Dentistry

This particular box needed no meaningful repair, but rather a good cleaning and polishing.  The tortoiseshell surface had a slightly cloudy appearance due to abrasions typically imparted through the nearly two centuries of use.  Given that chemically tortoiseshell is nearly identical to your fingernails as high density keratin fiber plates, it can easily be scratched and polished.


Polishing the surfaces was a straightforward process I have described here previously, and the results were not disappointing.



The larger component of the treatment revolved around the cleaning and polishing of the ivory feet.  In short, I became a postmortem  elephant dentist.



Diving into my tool kit of dental tools I withdrew my favorite cleaning scraper.  If I could ever find another one like this I would snap it up.  I recall this tool being a vintage SS White piece from an old military dental kit.

A half hour of dental hygiene cleaned each foot.


The cleaning/scraping was followed by a few minuted of dry polishing, using a cloth I made from chamois rubbed with 1 micron agglomerated microalumina metallography abrasive.


Like the polishing of the tortoiseshell, the treatment of the ivory yielded a satisfactory result.


With most decorative objects I treat, my objective is to conclude with a piece that appears “old, but well-cared for.”