Ivories collection

Ivory narwhal tusk

About this collection

This significant collection of ancient ivories was established by Joseph Mayer by 1867. Discover where these important objects were made, their intended use and history.  

What's in it?

In this collection of ancient ivories you can discover carved objects dating from the 4th century AD to the late 12th century AD, covering the Late Antique, Early Medieval, Byzantine and Romanesque periods in Europe.

The collection is one of the most significant in the UK alongside those of the Victoria & Albert and British Museums in London. It is historically representative and includes pieces of the finest ivories.

Brief history of the collection

The collection is predominantly that formed by Joseph Mayer, a Liverpool jeweller and goldsmith, in the mid-19th century and presented to the then town of Liverpool in 1867. The majority of Mayer’s collection was originally collected by the Hungarian Gabor Fejérváry, which in 1851 passed to his nephew Ferenc Pulszky, exiled in London following the Hungarian revolution of 1848. The ivories were offered for sale by Pulszky in 1855, initially to the British Museum, who declined on grounds of cost. A few months later, the money was found by Joseph Mayer, who displayed the ivories in his museum in Colquitt Street, Liverpool, together with other ivories acquired by Mayer, prior to his gift of 1867. 

A few additions to the ivories collection of Liverpool Museum (now World Museum) were made from 1956, from collections also formed in the 19th century and early 20th century.

Ivory today

All of the ivories in our collection are antiques. Trade in ivory was banned in 1989 by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to help protect endangered species, particularly elephants. 

Did you know?

This collection originated from Northern Hungarian wine merchant and connoisseur, Gabor Fejervary and Liverpool based jeweller and goldsmith, Joseph Mayer.

Explore related


  • 387 d.c. Ambrogio e Agostino. Le Sorgenti dell'Europa

    Pasini, Paolo

    Author: Pasini, Paolo
    Publisher: Olivares
    Date: 2003
    Description: Catalogue to accompany an exhibition of the same name held at the Museo Diocesano, Milano, from 8 December 2003 to 2 May 2004, preceded by a series of essays. The exhibition featured objects from the time of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.

  • 799 -Kunst und Kultur der Karolingerzeit

    Publisher: Verlag Philipp Von Zabern
    Date: 1999

  • A superb collection of ivories, homeless since the raids of 1941, now exhibited in London

    Publisher: The Illustrated London News
    Date: 1954-09-25
    Description: A review of the exhibition of ivory and bone objects from the Joseph Mayer collection, on exhibition for six months from 18th September 1954 at the British Museum, London.

  • Ancient Art. The Challenge to Modern Thought

    Laing, Lloyd; Laing, Jennifer

    Author: Laing, Lloyd; Laing, Jennifer
    Publisher: Irish Academic Press
    Date: 1993

  • Anglo-Saxon Art. A New History

    Webster, L

    Author: Webster, L
    Publisher: The British Museum Press
    Date: 2012

See all publications


  • 387 d.c. Ambrogio e Agostino. Le Sorgenti dell'Europa

    Start date: 2003-12-08
    End date: 2003-12-08
    Description: An exhibition held at the Museo Diocesano, Milano, from 8 December 2003 to 2 May 2004. The exhibition featured objects from the time of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, and was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue preceded by a series of essays.

  • 799-Kunst und Kultur der Karolingerzeit Karl der Grosse und Papst Leo III. in Paderborn

    Start date: 1999-07-23
    End date: 1999-07-23
    Description: An exhibition to mark the meeting between Karl the Great and Pope Leo III in Paderborn. The exhibition, which was held in Paderborn in 1999, comprised almost 1000 exhibits from the Carolingian period.

  • Art Treasures in Manchester: 150 years on

    Start date: 2007-10-06
    End date: 2007-10-06
    Description: Held in 1857 in Manchester, art Treasures of the United Kingdom' featured over 16,000 exhibits of the most important historic and modern art ever displayed. 150 years on, Manchester Art Gallery celebrated this extraordinary achievement in an anniversary exhibition.

  • Aurea Roma. Dalla Città Pagana alla Città Cristiana

    Start date: 2000-12-22
    End date: 2000-12-22
    Description: A temporary exhibition organised by the omune di Roma, Assesorato alle Politiche Culturali and the Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali and held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. Curated by Serena Ensoli and Eugenio La Rocca, it included nearly 380 artefacts from more than 80 institutions and private collections. The exhibition was accompanied by an illustrated book of essays and a catalogue raisonné

  • Bernward von Hildesheim und das Zeitalter der Ottonen

    Start date: 1993
    End date: 1993
    Description: An exhibition on the life of Bernward von Hildesheim, Bishop of Hildesheim from AD993 to AD1022. The exhibition, which was held at the Dom- und Diözesanmuseum Hildesheim and the Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum in 1993, was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue 'Bernward von Hildesheim und das Zeitalter der Ottonen'.

See all events


Collection name = Ivories collection
Collection view = 1
Page load time: 500 ms