Tortoise shell pieces (6), tortoiseshell, Fiji, acquired 1892
By the middle of the nineteenth century tortoiseshell and ivory were becoming expensive and this encouraged the search for alternate materials. In 1852 Alexander Parkes developed the first semi-synthetic plastic from cellulose nitrate and by 1860 it was being pressed into moulds to make billiard balls, pens, and even artificial teeth.
The high demand for shell and the cruel treatment of these animals eventually led the near extinction of these turtles and as a result many countries ban the use of turtle shell in making articles. Natural plastics like horn and tortoiseshell continued to be used well into the twentieth century but synthetic plastics are now used almost exclusively by manufacturers.
Geoff Barker, March, 2007
MacGregor, A., 'Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn: the technology of skeletal materials since the Roman period', Barnes and Noble Books, New Jersey, 1985.
Mossman, S., (ed.), Early Plastics; perspectives, 1850-1950, Leicester University Press, London, 1997
Schaverien, A., 'Horn, its History and its Uses', Everbest Printing Co., 2006
Mossman, S., Morris, P. J. T., (eds.), 'The Development of Plastics', Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, 1993