Friday, February 15, 2013

William Lund - Ivory Turner

An 'ivory-turner' is defined by the Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang as a 'skilful dicer'. He used dice, made of ivory, for his gaming. This rascal shows up in many a Regency novel.

But aside from the cant meaning of the phrase, ivory-turning was a respectable, and profitable, profession. Dice-making was a different trade entirely. Turning meant working with a treadle lathe on projects made of soft woods, and hard materials such as ebony, ivory, and hardwoods such as box.
The Worshipful Company of Turners is one of the guild companies of the City of London. In Leigh's New Picture of London 1818 turners are 51st in the list of "City Companies, arranged in their order of Precedency". In The Book of English Trades, also published in 1818, the picture above is included in the section on Turners, as is the following:
 All kinds of products were made by turners, but ivory turners in particular might work on delicate projects such as fans, etuis, and handles and parts of musical instruments.

Thomas Lund was one such turner. He began as a box-maker in about 1804 at 56-57 Cornhill, London. It might be his father who is mentioned in the 'Deaths' column of The Monthly Magazine, February 1806, -- "Mr. John Lund, the first known ivory turner in York, 77."

We know little about Thomas Lund except for the pieces of his work which have come down to the present day.

This is a tortoiseshell sewing box, inlaid with ivory. The interior is exquisite...
The sewing tools are made of ivory and mother of pearl. In the foreground are cotton spools with ivory centres and intricately carved mother of pearl ends.
The label on the box is particularly evocative of the Regency era...

These pictures are from The Hygra ("Antique Boxes at the Sign of the Hygra", London) where you can read about the history of such boxes, and purchase them.

Another popular item for production by ivory-turners was chess-sets. Lund became well-known for them, and they became a specialty of the company throughout the nineteenth century, particularly after William joined his father in business in 1835.
This image courtesy of

Another well-known Regency era ivory and wood turner was Hugh Robertson of Edinburgh. He was a maker of all kinds of pipes, including bagpipes, and turning of both wood and ivory was used in their manufacture. An image shows the turning required for bagpipe construction...

Here is an exquisite example of the ivory turner's work from Online Click on the link for more views of this box...
Ivory turners beautified the Regency world. But the cost was too high; ivory bearing animals suffered. I am glad the trade in ivory is now illegal, as is the traffic in items made of ivory. Wood turning will suffice for beauty and utility.

'Til next time,

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