Antique Tortoise Shell

Read This Before Start Collecting Antique Tortoise Shell items

During the Victorian era, particularly in the mid-1800s, tortoise shell items took pride of place in most homes. Tortoise shell boxes and containers were prized for their decorative properties aside from their original function of containing various items. Combs, hair pins, and various items of jewelry were even made from tortoise shell material. It wasn’t until 1973, when the Endangered Species Act was passed, that the trading and use of tortoise shell material in manufacturing different items was prohibited. This turned the attention of the public to antique tortoise shell items.

Antique Tortoise Shell

What is Tortoise Shell?

First, let us gain a better understanding about the material known as tortoise shell. This material is derived from the shell of one of the endangered turtle species, the hawksbill sea turtles. It has decorative properties and it is also durable, which explains why it was also used in the manufacture of guitar picks, sunglasses, and even knitting needles. During the Victorian times, tortoise shell jewelry were embellished with precious stones and metals, and some were even hand carved, making them sought after by many collectors of antique tortoise shell jewelries.
Collecting Antique Tortoise Shell
If you decide to start collecting antique tortoise shell, you have to know more than the basics. One of the first things every collector should know (and this applies to any item you collect, not just antique tortoise shell). There is the matter of being able to differentiate real tortoise shell from fake or faux tortoise shell.

Take it upon yourself to learn the differences between the real thing and faux tortoise shell. It takes a practiced and discerning eye to easily tell the differences. Generally, real tortoise shell is lighter than fake ones, and if you compare the two, the former would have more depth and layers, which is part of the reason why they were favored for use in jewelry making.


Antique Tortoise Shell VasesThere are certain tests that you can also try, such as a pin test, which will involve your sense of smell. However, unless you already own the tortoise shell item, the seller might not be amenable to you using a hot pin or a piece of sandpaper to see whether it will smell like burned hair (real tortoise shell does not smell as much like burned hair as faux tortoise shell) since markings or spots may be left on the shell afterwards.

Antique tortoise shell is also more expensive than faux tortoise shell. This is another hurdle you have to overcome if you want to be a collector of any antique tortoise shell, especially if you don’t really discriminate as to what type of item you are going to focus on. Some prefer to collect antique tortoise shell cases and tea caddies, while others are more partial with combs and jewelry. There are even some men who are into collecting antique tortoise shell cigar boxes and snuff boxes.
antique tortoise shell ruyiLook for a proof of origin when buying antiques so you know that your purchase is legal and not breaking any laws. The reputation of the dealer or seller of antique tortoise shell is also telling when you’re trying to decide on the legitimacy of the item you are contemplating on buying. If the seller already has a history of selling genuine items, then you can have more assurance that you are not being ripped off. Of course, it goes without saying that the reputation of the seller would also have a bearing on the price tag of the antique tortoise shell.

Now where can you expect to find antique tortoise shell to add to your collection? Antique shops are very good sources. Scouring through antique shops will turn up some unique finds. If there are antique shows and fairs in your area, they are also worth checking out. You’ll also be surprised at the treasure most antique collectors turn up when they have the patience to go to flea markets.

Collecting antiques is fun, and collecting antique tortoise shell is even more exciting, considering how they are now very rare and hard to find. Part of the thrill of collecting these items is the hunt you’ll be involved in.

Click Here to see some of our Antique Tortoise Shell Collection

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