A pair of elephant tusks, believed to be the biggest ever sold at auction, are expected to bring £250,000 to a Dorchester auction house on May 10.
The pair measure over six feet in length and are intricately carved with birds, animals, buildings and scenes from Chinese mythology. The huge tusks are hollow, allowing light to be reflected through them and creating a fantastic illumination of the carvings. Created during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) they are believed to have been produced for a man of status to further display his power.
Sourced from a private Swiss collection, the tusks are said to have been kept in storage for the past 60 years. It is not known how they were acquired by the consignor, although the auction house has stated it has all the appropriate documentation and does not support modern ivory sales.
Asian elephant ivory has been a source of controversy since the international trade of the material was banned in 1975, in an effort to conserve the declining population. This has increased the rarity of ivory carvings which, in turn, has seen prices escalate. Confirmed antiques are acceptable at auction, so long as they can be proved as such.
A similar, yet smaller pair of tusks sold at Christie's for $242,500 in 2009. The auction house hopes to beat this precedent, given the current buoyancy of the Chinese market. A carved rhino horn libation cup, measuring only four inches, sold for $270,000 in March.