Metalwork Trail, Millennium Gallery, Sheffield

Ivory decorations

What is ivory?

Elephant tusks are made of a material like bone, known as ivory. It was once very fashionable to make things out of ivory. 

Sometimes ivory was carved into ornate designs or used to decorate objects like ornaments, jewellery and many other objects. Have you heard the expression 'To tinkle the ivories'? This means 'to play the piano', because white piano keys were once made from ivory.  


The elephant on the badge pictured above symbolises the ivory trade. Companies in Sheffield used lots of ivory to make handles for their cutlery. It also suggested that the goods being produced in Sheffield were of the highest quality.

Ivory cutlery:

Ivory was also used for cutlery handles, as in the set pictured on the right. It is made up of a large knife and fork used for carving meat. The handles have silver ends in the shape of hares' heads. 

The carving set was made in Sheffield in 1907. It would have been used in a wealthy person's house, probably on special occasions.


Ivory today:

Trading in ivory is now banned, but the elephant on the coat of arms reminds us how important it once was to the industry.


Cutlery - Utensils like knives and forks used to eat

Fashionable - Popular at the same time with lots of people

Ornaments - Something made for just decoration  

Symbolise - When something has another meaning

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

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Document icon Learning article provided by: Museums Sheffield: Millennium Gallery | 
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