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Rhinoceros Horns

Considered controversial today, the harvesting of rhinoceros horns for various applications was a popular practice throughout history. Bearing varied connotations among ancient cultures, the rhinoceros horn was transformed into brilliant artistic objects that are now relatively rare on the auction market.

Ancient Greeks and Persians were some of the earliest cultures to covet the rhinoceros horn. Both considered the horn to hold talismanic powers. The Greeks believed it could clarify water, while the Persians felt it was capable of detecting poison within liquid contents. This belief was maintained into the 19th century among aristocratic courts in Europe, but science soon stepped in to clarify understanding of the horn.

The use of rhinoceros horns for symbolic and homeopathic purposes alongside decorative artistic objects resulted in massive rates of rhinoceros poaching, as the removal of the horn from a rhinoceros almost assuredly leads to the animal's death. This decimated populations over the course of the 20th century and dramatically reduced the rate at which these horns were being harvested for collectible purposes. Though contemporary trade is universally frowned upon, documented antique examples of such horns are both acceptable and acclaimed.

Quick Facts

  • A magnificently carved 18th century rhinoceros horn cup made by Chinese artist Hu Xingyue sold at a Sotheby's Hong Kong auction in 2012 for $745,620
  • Rhinoceros horns are relatively unique in that they are made completely of keratin, the same material as human hair and nails. This allows scientists to determine the geographic origins of the rhinoceros
  • Harvesting restrictions and the creation of imitation rhinoceros horn were implemented due to dwindling populations and the risk that horn removal poses for the rhinoceros

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