General Question

NovDel's avatar

How can I tell if a carving is ebony?

Asked by NovDel (654points) 1 month ago

My daughter gave me a carving of a totem pole as a gift. It came as part of a donation to the charity shop she helps run. It’s wooden and black, although it could have been stained. It shows a grain pattern, although it could have come from how it was worked, and the pole and plinth appear to be made as a single piece. The wood is very hard and dense, and I can’t dent or mark it with a fingernail. It sinks in water. I’m just curious.

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4 Answers

snowberry's avatar

According to the Britannia, ebony wood is from the tropics. Don’t totem poles originate in Canada, Alaska and maybe the Northwest US?

Answer why someone would make a totem pole from tropical wood, and you’ll know a lot more about your piece.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/ebony-wood

seawulf575's avatar

You went about as far as I would towards identification. The only other possible option would be to take a Q-tip dipped in acetone (nail polish remover) and rub it on the bottom. If it is stained the Q-tip will pick up the stain. The hard part is that there are so many variables that no test is perfect. If there is some sort of internal weight, the piece will sink in water. Some ebony pieces are stained as well to give them more uniform coloration. Looking at the wood grain with a magnifying glass to see the slight color distinctions in the wood grain isn’t perfect if it was stained.

I’d suggest taking the piece to an expert to see if they can determine. Maybe someone that works with ebony?

NovDel's avatar

@snowberry @seawulf575 Thanks for your replies. I’ve done some checking and Snowberry is right. It is Canadian and is indeed made from … er … resin. Oh well, never mind. it’s still a nice thing to have.

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